“Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder will fight in Saudi Arabia in 2023” is a sentence that would have excited any boxing fan a year ago.
As usual whenever the prospect of the pair colliding resurfaces, though, the reality is more complicated than that. The heavyweights will share a a ring in separate bouts on December 23, when the Briton will fight Otto Wallin and Wilder will face former Joshua victim Joseph Parker.
Still, the situation appears to have moved a meeting between Joshua and Wilder a step forward. Wilder was more ambiguous than he has been on social media when he was asked whether Joshua is next for him as they sat three seats apart at a press conference on Wednesday, but that question is the key subplot of the event dubbed the ‘Day of Reckoning’.
The Sporting News takes a brief look at the timeline between Joshua and Wilder, why they haven’t clashed yet and what they have said about finally trading blows.
MORE: Joshua: I’m a different breed to Wilder
Much of the attention fell on Joshua and Wilder being at the same table in London, but promoters Eddie Hearn and Shelly Finkel also renewed acquaintances six years after their confusing public back-and-forth about negotiations began.
In November 2017, Hearn, who represents Joshua, and Finkel – Wilder’s manager – met to discuss a unification fight for Joshua’s IBF and WBA titles and Wilder’s WBC belt.
After Joshua beat Parker to become WBO champion the following March, the Londoner emphasised his willingness to fight Wilder. Negotiations proceeded but were complicated by Alexander Povetkin’s status as Joshua’s mandatory WBA challenger, with Hearn swiftly given 28 days to arrange a fight with the Russian veteran before purse bids began.
A unification fight with Wilder would have superseded a defence against Povetkin. Hearn, who had initially offered Wilder $12.5m (£10.1m), was understandably as keen to know more as Joshua was when Wilder offered $50m (£40.3m), but a scheduled meeting with Finkel and Wilder’s representatives in New York was cancelled.
Hearn told Boxing News that Wilder’s team had wanted Joshua to accept the deal without a contract or any “deal points”, and after the WBA granted numerous extensions, purse bids were called for Joshua to fight Povetkin.
Hearn’s promoter father, Barry, met that June with Finkel, who told ESPN that he was about to send “a couple of notes” back for the contracts, leading many to assume that terms were almost settled. Joshua’s then-trainer, Rob McCracken, said the bout would happen “without a doubt” in 2018 or 2019.
Weeks later, the WBA’s pressure for a decision told as Joshua concluded a deal to face his mandatory challenger. Hearn accused Finkel of dragging his feet, and the ‘superfight’ incrementally fell further from that description as Joshua lost, regained and lost his titles again after beating Povetkin, while Wilder was dethroned in his first defeat to Tyson Fury in 2020.
Amid increasing scepticism and weariness among punters, there have been numerous points during the intervening years when talk of a deal has grown loud.
There was particular appetite for Joshua and Wilder to fight while both were unbeaten, not least in the absence of Fury for almost three years between 2015 and 2018, when current unified champion Oleksandr Usyk was still operating at cruiserweight.
MORE: Predictions for Joshua and Wilder card
“Wilder should come and see me, man to man, and we can get this fight agreed and confirmed,” Joshua told the Standard in May 2019. “No promoters, managers or broadcasters in the room.”
Two days later, Joshua’s plans were spectacularly derailed when he suffered the first defeat of his career by knockout against an opponent few had afforded a chance in Andy Ruiz.
Fury drew with Wilder in the first fight of their trilogy in 2019, but potential negotiations between either man over a rematch or encounters with Joshua had become more convoluted because all three had agreed terms with different broadcasters.
Before Joshua lost to Ruiz, Hearn had rated the chances of him fighting Wilder in late 2019 as “brilliant” because of DAZN’s involvement in the US, which would provide the audience reach for the fight to make financial sense.
Joshua held three of the four major belts at the time, with Wilder the WBC champion and Fury the undefeated lineal champion.
Wilder subsequently defended his reasons for turning down a reported £100m ($124.2m) multi-fight offer from DAZN which included taking on Joshua at around that time. Their paths since then have left neither with a title.
Wilder, whose perfect 40-fight record was a matter of debate because of the calibre of his opponents before he first took on Fury, will fight for the first time in 14 months when he faces Parker, while Joshua, who has won twice since successive defeats to Usyk, says he is focused on winning titles again.
“There have been a lot of lies and manipulation going on, there have been a lot of years I have been waiting,” Wilder told the Independent of the saga after coming face-to-face with Joshua following their media duties.
“I have never been the hold-up, and I could say a lot of things. All of these guys – promoters, managers – they don’t want me to say certain things, because it exposes them. But at the end of the year, we are here now.”
According to Wilder, a sum of more than $50m means that “everything is going in the right direction” and “people are going to get what they have wanted for years”. Joshua may not be convinced by that, given his previous remarks about the real value of that $50m offer in 2017.
“Do you know what’s good?” asked Joshua in the wake of the press conference. “I’ve got opportunities. That’s what I think is the best thing right now.
“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.”
Wilder says the fight is “closing in”, leaving Joshua with “nowhere to run.” “I’m doing everything in my power to make it happen,” he also claimed with characteristic bluster on Instagram in October.
“This would be a major disaster if we were never able to get in the ring and put our stamp down in history.”