WEMBLEY ARENA, LONDON — Deontay Wilder believes Anthony Joshua is out of options and must face him in 2024, before accusing the former unified two-time heavyweight champion’s handlers of being scared to make the fight.
Joshua and Wilder are in the co-main events on a gargantuan, heavyweight-dominated card in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 23, dubbed “Day of Reckoning”. It marks the Middle East state’s latest major venture into combat sports after Tyson Fury’s unexpectedly dramatic crossover showdown with former UFC heavyweight king Francis Ngannou.
Wilder will face former WBO champion Joseph Parker, while Joshua has been paired with Otto Wallin, the Swedish southpaw who left Fury badly cut and needing 47 stitches when he dropped a unanimous decision loss to the “Gypsy KIng” in September 2019.
Fury vs. Wallin happened three months after Joshua’s world came crashing down against Andy Ruiz Jr. at Madison Square Garden. That huge upset ended a period of over a year when Wilder and Joshua held all four major heavyweight belts as undefeated champions.
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Joshua is now 34, with Wilder four years his senior as they nurse five losses between them. Their most recent conquerors, Oleksander Usyk and Fury, sit atop the heavyweight division and are primed for a February 17 undisputed clash, also in Saudi Arabia. Still, Joshua vs. Wilder retains huge appeal.
“There have been a lot of lies and manipulation going on, there have been a lot of years I have been waiting,” Wilder said backstage at Wembley Arena before he and Joshua met for the first time since 2017 at Wednesday’s launch press conference in London.
“The fight is closing in and Joshua has nowhere to run. I don’t think he is scared of me but the people around him are. Maybe there is some fear in him but we are in a business where we all risk our lives.
“The sport and the dangers get under your skin so I understand that side. Everyone will get in the ring for the right price, especially when there is over $50m on the table.
“Everything is going in the right direction now and the fight will happen. The time is finally here and people are going to get what they have wanted for years.
“He never, ever had my name in his mouth. I never gave up hope because I understand the business.”
Wilder also recalled the infamous 2018 incident when he and his promoter Shelly Finklel proposed a $50 million payment to Joshua to make the fight happen, although Eddie Hearn and his fighter maintained all was not quite as claimed with that eyebrow-raising offer.
“It wasn’t in my control and if it was it would have happened six years ago. It would have happened when he asked for $50m. But it didn’t happen because they didn’t think we’d come up with the money,” he said.
“I didn’t put that out there for fun. My people told me to put that out there because we had what they wanted. I got the call: ‘put it out there, tell Joshua this is what’s going on’. So I did just that.
“But what’s a deflection? Try to make it seem like it’s not real. Try and get into his character, talk about where he’s from or whatever. Time has passed and they said, ‘Joshua has a fight now guys, we have to move on. Let’s call the organisation of what belts we’re holding for them to push a mandatory’.
“It’s a sad reality but I don’t have any regrets at all because I know the truth will set you free. All of these guys, promoters, managers, they don’t want me to say certain things because it exposes them.”
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Wilder knows there must be no further slip-ups from either man, with a potentially career-defining battle so tantalisingly close. As he spoke in a relaxed and content manner, the big Alabaman seemed more concerned for Joshua’s prospects against Wallin than his own with Parker in the other corner.
“I worry about every fight he is in because we question Joshua about his identity,” he added.
“Eddie Hearn built Anthony Joshua. He wasn’t born a champion, he was made a champion.
“I think they did a f****** amazing job of promoting him and getting him to the top, I am happy for him as a fellow fighter, I am proud of him and happy for him.
“But I would have been the undefeated undisputed heavyweight world champion many years ago, for many years, if I had the opportunities he was given.
“Hopefully he doesn’t get beaten. That’s one of the things we think about. But that’s going to be up to him. If he really wants to fight me and I want to fight him we have to win these fights.
“I can judge him and say what I want but this s*** applies to me too. I have to do the same thing, I have to beat Parker. I can talk about Joshua all I want but I have to handle Parker and he says he’s got the blueprint to beat me.”
As was made abundantly clear during Fury’s near-debacle against Ngannou, anything can happen in heavyweight boxing. But have no doubt; the Wilder vs. Joshua mind games have already started.