Joseph Parker celebrates Christmas early with wide points decision over Deontay Wilder

Joseph Parker more than survived his Day of Reckoning, he earned the biggest win of his career by shocking fellow former heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.

The New Zealander, a former WBO champion, won a clear decision over the Alabama banger, by margins of 118-111, 118-110 and 120-108 in front of a stunned crowd in the Kingdom Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Parker, who has career losses to Joe Joyce, Dillian Whyte and Anthony Joshua, delivered one of the Upsets of the Year and instantly said it was his biggest win, even more so than winning the world title.

“A lot of respect to Wilder,” said the winner. “[It was a] Dangerous fight, tough fight, but we trained hard for this. Everyone had other plans, but this was God’s plan.”

“[I] Stayed calm, relaxed, focused, switched on for every minute of every round. Today we got the win. Merry Christmas to us.”

Parker said afterwards that he had practised staying away from Wilder’s right hand in training camp and paid tribute to his coach Andy Lee. Parker also said boxing for the fourth time this year made him sharper.

“It helped me massively… momentum, working with Andy and [nutritionist] George [Lockhart] continuously in camp and not getting out of shape,” Parker added, saying that stablemate Tyson Fury had helped him in camp. 

“This is massive. This is the toughest opponent I’ve faced. I’m back. I’m ready for anything.”

The first round of the co-main event was quiet. Parker reached for a right hand that did not miss by much. Wilder was taking a close look. Parker tried for that right again in the second and the American was throwing very little. Perhaps Wilder was trying to box while shedding rust. He’d fought less than three competitive minutes in two years, only bombing out Robert Helenius since the Fury trilogy fight.

Parker’s trainer, Andy Lee, asked his man to be busier when Wilder had his back to the ropes. Parker leapt in with a left hook in the third, and the American tried to catch him with a counter but they wound up in a clinch.

In the third, it became clearer that Wilder was trying to walk Parker onto a big shot, making the New Zealander come to him and then catch him. Parker was not having much success, but it seemed he was still having more than Wilder. 

Wilder was coming up short with his jabs, and while in close, he was narrowly off target with hooks and uppercuts.

The fight opened up slightly in the fourth. Parker became more aggressive and Wilder was trying to stay with him but the New Zealander’s conventional boxing and punching was more impressive. Wilder was finding it difficult to time Parker with his long right hand while Parker was finding a rhythm.

Wilder, who won a bronze at the 2008 Olympics, couldn’t get traction. Perhaps he was paying for the lack of depth of quality on his pro record, or for inactivity, or maybe he was lulling Parker into a false sense of security. Because Parker was racking up the rounds and after five Parker had not taken a punch of note.

Wilder was making Parker rush him, and then claimed him when the New Zealander was close. Wilder was better, finally, in the sixth. He did catch Parker with a left and, moments later, a right, and for the first time he forced Parker to the ropes, threw a big right and then Parker held.

Wilder, now 43-3-1 (42 KOs), was treating Parker with enormous respect. The former WBC champion was reluctant to come forwards and even more reluctant to throw and in the seventh Parker fired over some big right hands that Wilder was becoming increasingly wary of.

In the eighth, Wilder scored a breakthrough. Parker overreached with a punch, fell short and got caught. But with less than a minute left in the round, Parker landed the huge overhand right he’d been looking for all night. Wilder’s hands dropped and Parker tried to throw it again and then Parker keenly followed up, throwing everything he could to try and get the former WBC champion out of there. Wilder was all over the place, hanging on grimly and firing back but missing, and referee Mark Lyson took a close look to see if Wilder was going to survive.

Wilder did make it through but he’d been in dire straits. The underdog had an abundance of confidence flowing through him and Wilder was passive once more. Both stood and waited to throw right hands, and they finished the ninth as a stalemate, but Wilder must have been well behind on the cards, to the extent that Parker, now 34-3 (23 KOs), needed to only stay on his feet to win.

Wilder was running out of time, but he was on the front foot in the 10th and looking to turn the fight around with his vaunted power.

“He’s going to try and win the fight, that’s going to play into your hands,” said Lee in Parker’s corner.

But Wilder was listless. There was little urgency and he didn’t look like he was going to turn the tide or, perhaps at 38, the clock, back.

In the final round, Wilder went for it, so much so that he was warned for clubbing with an unorthodox hammer fist in a clinch, but with some 90 seconds left Wilder connected with a right hand. Wilder was throwing crude, ungainly swings and Parker held him for all he was worth for the final 10 seconds. Both celebrated at the bell; but Wilder held his hands aloft in hope rather than expectation. He had been well beaten and Parker was back in the mix. 

Wilder said he felt he had won, but admitted things weren’t right and indicated he might not fight again. 

“I did,” said Wilder. “My timing was off a little bit. Big up to Joseph. He did a great job avoiding most of my punches. We move on to the next thing. We did what we did and we move on, we live to see another day. I’m ready to go home to my children. I felt like I had the upper hand but you move on to the next step. There’s a lot of talk about different things. We will see what happens. We have a little more left but I’ve done a great job managing my money… I’m a warrior so I’ll be back soon and, if not, it’s been enjoyable [the journey].”