WEMBLEY ARENA, LONDON — Anthony Joshua is mad. Maybe not mad as hell. But he’s certainly not going to take it anymore.
The former two-time unified heavyweight champion returns to action on a stacked card in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 23, which the organisers have dubbed the “Day of Reckoning” as the Middle East state makes its latest big move in combat sports.
It probably wouldn’t move the needle as much, but a more accurate banner might be “Best of the Rest”. Joshua takes on Swedish southpaw and former amateur foe Otto Wallin, while long-time rival Deontay Wilder is in action against Joseph Parker, the former WBO champion who AJ dethroned at a sold-out Principality Stadium in March 2018.
At that point, Joshua was at the centre of the boxing universe. Now, as he continues a rebuilding phase after consecutive defeats to Oleksandr Usyk, he is back in the pack.
Saudi Arabia have big plans for heavyweight boxing this and stacked card is effectively a warm-up for the undisputed showdown between Usyk and Tyson Fury on February 17, also part of Riyadh Season that kicked off with Fury and Francis Ngannou’s money-spinning crossover showdown.
Turki Alalshikh, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Entertainment is the ringmaster of this particular circus, which in London on Wednesday brought together sworn promotional rivals Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren.
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Joshua, long the jewel in Hearn’s Matchroom stable, bristled throughout the launch event at Wembley Arena. In his dressing room before taking to the stage for the press conference, he took umbrage at Wilder and Wallin’s modest assessments of his talents at this stage of a decade-long professional career.
“Who the f*** is he? He’s a boxer, not a psychologist,” Joshua said of Wilder. “Otto says I’ve peaked, Wilder says I’ve lost my identity… Wallin has never seen a peak, so who is he to say what a peak is?
“Wilder… I’ve stood 10 toes on what I represent, I’ve been a two-time champion of the world, defended it, fought X amount of world champions. The boy has had 50 fights and he probably fought Jason Gavern in his 30-something fight, I probably fought him in my 12th or whatever.
“I never had a year out, never had too much time off, I stood up to every opportunity, I fought back-to-back world champions, defended my titles. I’m a different breed. Who am I to compare myself to others? I am a different breed.
“If they’re looking for weaknesses and gaps, then they need to stop looking over here because I’m solid. I don’t know what he’s talking about if I’m honest.”
One factor seized upon as a potential sign of weakness and something that probably informs Wilder’s “identity” comments is Joshua’s fluctuating training setup. After splitting with long-time trainer Robert McCracken in the wake of his first defeat to Usyk, he brought in Robert Garcia to run his corner for the rematch alongside Angel Hernandez.
A second painful reverse via split-decision saw Joshua tear up his training team and relocate to Texas under Derrick James, who helmed the first two bouts of his 2023 rebuild against Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius.
Now, with James committed to seeing Ryan Garcia through his December 2 fight against Oscar Duarte, Joshua has teamed up with Ben Davison – once Fury’s chief second – for the Wallin fight.
“I don’t want to talk about trainers,” Joshua said tersely, leaving it at that. He also didn’t want to hear from Jarrell Miller, a ghost from his past who will face Daniel Dubois on the December 23 undercard.
Miller was due to face Joshua on his US debut in June 2019 before testing positive for multiple banned substances. Late replacement Andy Ruiz Jr. then stunningly floored the Briton four times to take the titles.
The outspoken New Yorker was just getting into his trash-talking flow when Joshua interjected. “Shut the f*** up, f***ing clown,” he said, fixing his glare down the top table. “Watch your mouth, watch your mouth. F*** Jarell Miller.”
Joshua also didn’t take his eyes off Wilder throughout the Bronze Bomber’s later address and the 2012 Olympic gold medalist retains a singular focus when it comes to getting back to the top of the tree.
If Usyk and Fury rematch after their first fight as expected, the IBF title will become vacant. Wallin is second in the sanctioning body’s rankings, meaning the winner of his and Joshua’s fight will be in line to face Filip Hrgovic — also on the Saudi card against one-time David Haye victim Mark de Mori — for that slice of the world championship.
“Nothing really matters in the grand scheme of things but, for me personally, [if I become a three-time champion] my vision has come to a reality,” Joshua added. “That gives a man power and gives him authority. I’m someone who has an authoritative word, I’m someone who if [I say] I’m going to do something then I will do it.
“Do you know what’s good? I have got opportunities. I feel like the fight with Wilder is massive, it will happen but I have options.
“I don’t aim to be a part of the circus, I aim to own the circus. I don’t play to anyone’s tune, I play to my tune. I’ve got options and we will see what I do.”
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