Christmas cracker sees heavyweights clash on Saudi ‘Day Of Reckoning’
Plus, David Benavidez wins & Katie Taylor claims Dublin revenge
It’s a big night with big fights and recognisable personalities. December 23 in Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena, heavy-hitting heavyweights may not be fighting each other but the fights are definitely not purely showcases, as some may suggest.
Going to Saudi is a point of contention in itself. Fans won’t care too much if the key contests everybody craves are delivered at a nice time that doesn’t include a 4 am start.
DAZN will televise this show on pay-per-view rather than TNT Sports. Early broadcasting days, with more to be announced in due course, but 1-0 to Eddie at the moment over his new top-table best buddy Frank Warren.
Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are the standout attractions. Let’s have a brief look at the schedule, fight by fight…
Anthony Joshua vs. Otto Wallin
AJ returns to the Kingdom off back-to-back wins over Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius that came off back-to-back losses to the mighty Oleksandr Usyk. The life and career of a top-level boxer can include many ups and downs.
Meanwhile, Otto Wallin’s form has been sketchy, although he seems to get up for the big ones. If he can repeat the same energy that pushed Fury close in 2019 and cut him badly, then Joshua could be in for a tricky night - at least early on.
Wallin is a sizeable southpaw who has been avoided due to his awkward style and lack of marketability. Joshua will have to chase him and impose his will if he steps off and runs. If the Swede walks to Joshua, he could have success but also risk turning into something heavy.
Wallin’s chin has been dependable throughout his 10-year career, and he managed to withstand Murat Gassiev’s bombs for 12 rounds. Joshua hits even harder than the mythical Russian and seems to hold the finishing instincts of old, as Helenius found out.
The official fight poster deliberately makes it look like Joshua is fighting Deontay Wilder. The time for Joshua-Wilder feels like it’s about to pass. Both men’s drawing power is on the wane. Speaking of which…
Deontay Wilder vs. Joseph Parker
The ‘Bronze Bomber’ has finally nailed down the Saudi payday he’s been craving since banging out Robert Helenius at the tail end of 2022. Wilder’s one-punch mystique was taken away by Tyson Fury, who laid down a blueprint to defuse the bomber.
New Zealand’s former WBO champion Joseph Parker has shown his level often enough to suggest that he will do well to last the course, provided Wilder brings the power and energy of old.
A key consideration is: How much does Joseph Parker offer in order to prepare Wilder for Joshua? No fighter ever admits to looking past their next opponent, but this is presumably what we are all here for. Parker loves a brawl and a maul, and if he can take away Wilder’s initial confidence, things could get interesting.
The winner may have another problem on their hands soon after the WBC awarded Francis Ngannou a top 10 ranking. More of a publicity stunt than anything else, it is a typically on-brand move for the WBC to pull.
Daniel Dubois vs. Jarrell Miller
Dubois will be hoping to capitalise on his career-best performance, albeit in defeat to Oleksandr Usyk, by getting a premium card slot in Riyadh. Opponent Miller is a renowned drug cheat who’s taken advantage of boxing’s notoriously lax moral stance on such matters to enjoy a bumper payday four years after messing up his original money shot against Anthony Joshua.
Despite his dumpy frame, Miller has a good engine and durability. Nobody has managed to outlast the Brooklyn man so far. Dubois punches with molten fists, and if anyone can puncture the Miller defensive shell, it’s ‘Dynamite’ Daniel.
Frank Sanchez vs. Junior Fa
In 2021, on the undercard of Tyson Fury’s book-closing stoppage of Deontay Wilder, little-known Frank Sanchez announced himself as a division dangerman. The Cuban dropped and outboxed touted puncher Efe Ajagba over 10 rounds.
What was supposed to be his coming out party, Sanchez has just disappeared back into the PBC shadows and looks further away than ever from a title shot.
He needs to step on the gas and dismiss Junior Fa in a statement victory. Giant Fa was seen as something of a prospect himself at one stage. A domestic dust-up against Joseph Parker ended in a wide points loss.
While that could be forgiven, a follow-up KO loss to Lucas Browne showed Fa’s level and offered a major red flag as to his career ambitions.
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Filip Hrgovic vs. Mark De Mori
Probably the most one-sided fight on the card. Hrgovic has been IBF mandatory since the beginning of time and needs a big fight to propel him to the next level or get rid of him altogether. Mark ‘The Viking’ De Mori will not provide that kind of test.
The Australian shot to fame in 2016 when he was chosen to fight David Haye on Dave (UK TV station) as the first bout in Haye’s comeback run. De Mori was crushed early that night. The 41-year-old has not tasted defeat since. Heavy-handed Croatian puncher Hrgovic should change that statistic within the first two or three rounds.
Arslanbek Makhmudov vs. Agit Kabayel
Likely to be an interesting clash of styles, both of these men are undefeated. Makhmudov is a powerful Russian who just bullrushes his way through opponents who either fold early or hang around for a round or two and then fold.
However, Carlos Takam took him the 10-round course in 2022 and won a few sessions. That will offer hope to European heavyweight king Kabayel that he can fiddle the 34-year-old around, much like he did to Derek Chisora in Monaco.
The heavyweights are joined by two outstanding lower-weight champions who should get their respective business done with little fuss.
Dmitry Bivol vs. Lyndon Arthur
It’s a bit of a crime that after such an outstanding 2022 that saw him defeat both Canelo and Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez, the excellent Dmitry Bivol has not seen any ring time this year. Tall and capable challenger Lyndon Arthur (who brings the IBO belt to the fight) has shown his level in the past.
This contest points to a functional Bivol performance, probably lasting the distance unless the WBA light-heavyweight title holder puts his foot down late as he did against Sullivan Barrera.
Jai Opetaia vs. Ellis Zorro
Fresh from a September shellacking of oversized and overmatched Jordan Thompson, at least IBF cruiserweight king Jai Opetaia is staying busy. Jai’s breakout win over Mairis Briedis left him with a badly damaged jaw, which has now healed. Challenger Zorro is undefeated in 17 fights. The 31-year-old Londoner has never fought anywhere near this class, and ruthless Opetaia will put him to the test right away.
David Benavidez batters Andrade, sends out Canelo message
Only a Canelo match will suffice for David Benavidez, who bludgeoned the last obstacle out of the way in Las Vegas last Saturday evening. Demetrius Andrade had set out his stall as the most avoided fighter in boxing. Benavidez embraced the challenge and met him head-first in the ring.
Andrade used his unorthodox southpaw style to land some solid shots in the opening three rounds and was able to negotiate his way out of trouble. It was as good as over once Benavidez worked out the movements, stopped allowing any clinches, and sharpened his timing.
To his credit, Andrade soaked up the onslaught and rose from a thudding fourth-round knockdown to try and slug his way back into the contest. One of the judges had it close at the time of the sixth-round retirement when Andrade’s corner decided to pull him out.
Benavidez’s wins over first Caleb Plant and now Andrade have placed him above the likes of David Morrell and into the driving seat for a Canelo opportunity. Mike Tyson and a host of other stars sat at ringside to celebrate the rise of one of the sport’s next major stars.
David holds the WBC Interim title at super-middleweight, which theoretically puts pressure on Canelo to meet him next. As we all know, Canelo is a megastar who does what he wants.
Pitched by some as a weight bully who motors forward, grinding people down, Benavidez is so much more. Using subtle feints, raking body shots and explosive hand speed to cut off the distance quickly, Benavidez has matured into a beast at 168. He used Brian Campbell’s post-fight interview to send out a clear message to his Mexican rival when asked who he wants next.
Showtime boxing may be bowing out of the sport, but they left us with a well-matched card to savour before their inevitable exit. Commentary team Mauro Ranallo, Al Bernstein, Abner Mares and the ghostly voice of home-based Steve Farhood will all be seeking alternative employment.
Before visa issues scudded the bout, super-lightweight contenders Ohara Davies and Ismael Barroso were scheduled to throw down on the Ryan Garcia undercard this weekend. Rather than fighting each other, a more entertaining spectacle would be to put them both in against Subriel Matias at the same time and see if they can last the course.
The latest victim to try and tame the beast was unbeaten Uzbek Shohjahon Ergashev who couldn’t feel his legs by round six and bailed out. Matias’ last five victims have all been retired from competition as the Puerto Rican hype train gathers steam.
Jermall Charlo returned from his hiatus to outpoint Jose Benavidez after 10 surprisingly fun rounds. Lamont Roach needed a late knockdown to sneak a split-decision win over Hector Garcia at super-featherweight.
Katie Taylor beats Chantelle Cameron in bruising Dublin return
It might’ve taken a lot of stamina, resolve and a heavy dose of late fight holding but Katie Taylor used every ounce of her experience to get over the line in Dublin last Saturday evening. Having lost the first fight to Chantelle Cameron in May, Katie made the required adjustments to prevail over 10 rounds.
It was a bruising and bloody affair. Cameron suffered a nasty gash across the forehead, which undoubtedly threw her off the game plan. Taylor’s savvy moves and intense physicality also helped.
The Irish veteran is a national treasure who has perfected her style for the two-minute rounds. A third fight with Cameron would be a nice send-off for Katie, who wouldn’t have too many trips to the well left in a weary frame that has served her as a pro since 2016 and in countless amateur contests before that.
The former undisputed lightweight queen won all four major belts at super-lightweight and improved her record to 23-1 (6 KOs). The former champion Cameron drops to 18-1 (8 KOs).
On the big fight undercard, spidery lightweight Gary Cully bounced back from his shock KO loss to Jose Felix last time to outpoint Doncaster’s Reece Mould over 10.
Paddy Donovan reinforced his position as one of Irish boxing’s brightest stars of the future with a masterclass of control and distance, knocking out Danny Ball in round four.
Ireland’s Olympic representative Emmet Brennan delighted his fanbase by claiming the BUI Celtic light-heavyweight crown in just his second outing. Limerick’s Jamie Morrissey was the game victim who fell in the eighth and final round.
Thomas Carty toiled to a last-round stoppage of exhausted Dan Garber in a sloppy heavyweight brawl.
Safety-first John Cooney broke out of his shell to detonate Liam Gaynor inside a round. Debutant Giorgio Visioli did the same to Lee Sibley. Zelfa Barrett shook off any rust with an eight-round points win over Costin Ion. Skye Nicolson forced Lucy Wildheart’s corner to throw in the towel in round nine.
Regis Prograis puts his WBC super-lightweight title on the line in San Francisco against former undisputed 135-king Devin Haney. The pre-fight trash talk should be fun, even if the actual fight has the potential to turn messy. Haney is building his record nicely with some big names, while Prograis badly needs a trademark win. All nicely poised.
Sticking with an Irish theme, Dublin hands the boxing baton to Belfast as Michael Conlan heads an intriguing comeback card on December 2. The two-time world title challenger embarks on run number three towards glory as he takes on Jordan Gill in the SSE Arena. Tyrone McKenna faces Lewis Crocker in an appetising local clash at welterweight (the pair were beefing at Thursday’s press conference). Sean McComb and Caoimhin Agyarko also feature.
Full photo credits: Talksport, NewsHub, Bad Left Hook.
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About Steve: Experienced boxing writer, author of 8 books and podcaster of over 500 eps. 20 years in the sport. Covered hundreds of shows for newspapers and Boxing News magazine. Chief video script writer for Motivedia channel and BN+. For enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.