Wilder and Joshua, Warren and Hearn, money brings boxing together

It might have been the biggest boxing press conference of all time.

Mike Goodall, who creates all of the sets for these things, looked proudly upon the vast backdrop he had created inside Wembley Arena for the huge Saudi Arabia show on December 23 and said: “We don’t make many like that.”

Mike has been doing it since the 1970s. He’s never made one like that.

It was elaborate when it was empty. It made the eyes water and bulge when it was filled.

Those on stage at the announcement of the show and fight card included Deontay Wilder, Otto Wallin, Anthony Joshua, Joseph Parker, Daniel Dubois, Jarrell Miller, Dmitry Bivol, Lyndon Arthur, Jai Opetaia, Ellis Zorro, Junior Fa, Agit Kabayel, Filip Hrgovic, Mark De Mori, Frank Warren, Eddie Hearn, Dmitry Salita and Shelly Finkel.

Frank Sanchez, who faces Fa, was not there, and neither was Arslanbak Makhmudov, who meets Kabayel. Both bouts are at heavyweight.

Aside from that, the stacked press conference, hosted by Dev Sahni, included a couple of flash points. 

Joshua cut in on Miller, whom he had been due to fight years ago – before Miller tested positive for PEDs – and then Joshua said he wanted to take questions from Hearn rather than Sahni.

Miller talked up the biggest storm. Highly entertaining for those with short memories, but not so much for those who think his past indiscretions merit a monster payday.

Fa was the first fighter to speak, and to a man each and every person thanked Turki Alalshikh, the man responsible for putting the event together and for the influx of Saudi money that his presently running through the top of the sport. 

“This is a great opportunity, I have to showcase my skills on this massive stacked card, probably the best card the world has ever seen,” said Fa, without being able to address his favoured opponent, Sanchez. “I’m there to steal the night and put on the performance of a lifetime.” 

Asked for a message for Sanchez, Fa said: “Train hard, I’ll see you December 23.”

Fellow heavyweight Kabayel was next. Like Fa, he was without an opponent to address because Mahkmudov was not there.

In broken English, Mahkmudov said: “It’s a big opponent and very good organisation. I’m happy and I’m ready. He’s a very good opponent, very aggressive and this is two guys with a zero who’ve not lost…. Two tough guys.”

IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia, fresh off a hammering of Englishman Jordan Thompson, now meets another unheralded Brit in Ellis Zorro.

“There’s a big part of me that’s so grateful to be part of it,” Opetaia, who called himself the King of the Cruiserweights, said of the show. “But part of me thinks I’ve earned my spot to be here…. We’ve got to prepare how we prepare. We’ve got to get in those trenches and train hard.”

“This is arguably the best cruiserweight in the world,” Zorro admitted. “It’s the biggest event I’ve been involved in and possibly ever will be, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Another Englishman on the bill is Manchester light-heavyweight Lyndon Arthur. He meets one of the top two 175-pounders on the planet in Dimitrii Bivol.

“You have to take these opportunities when they come,” said Arthur. “Everyone knows how good Bivol is, he beat Canelo, but I have to try and upset his plans for the future and I’m happy to be part of this show.”

Asked if he saw any holes in Bivol’s game, Arthur could only laugh, “Yeah, loads.”

Eddie Hearn said Bivol was looking towards the winner of the January clash between Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith, and for his part Russian Bivol, like the others, thanked the Saudi Arabians. 

“I’m glad to be part of this event,” he said, following an inactive spell, in part due to injury. “I’m glad I’m coming back because I’ve missed fighting and thank you to the team of Lyndon Arthur for taking this fight. I think this is the best [available] opponent for me in the division. I know he has good boxing skills, discipline and he’s the IBO champion. I just want to go to the ring and show boxing skills and make good fights and I want to move forward to my goal.”

Underdog Mark De Mori told everyone he was going to come gunning for Filip Hrgovic and that he was even going to try and rupture his spleen, promising the IBF mandatory heavyweight contender “a violent first four rounds.”

Hrgovic grinned menacingly and replied: “I’m very excited and I’m glad my opponent is very excited.” 

Then, Hrgovic continued: “I’m next in line for the heavyweight championship of the world and I’ll fight the winner of Usyk against Fury or, if they vacate the title, I’ll fight the next best ranked contender in the IBF rankings and that will be the winner of Wallin and Joshua and I’m looking forward to big nights.”

Next up was heavyweight contender Daniel Dubois, preparing to fight for the first time since losing to Oleksandr Usyk in Poland in August.

Dubois’s promoter, Warren, said: “Daniel needs a tough fight and to show everybody what he’s about. You know he can punch, there are some doubters out there but we believe in him and he believes in himself…. He can’t afford to slip up, this is his big moment in time and we’re going to find out what he’s about.”

“It’s big-time boxing, I’m ready,” said Dubois. “Bring it on. I’m motivated for this fight.” 

Then Miller went off, having thanked ‘Brother Turki’. 

“Thanks Daniel Dubois for being a dummy to sign this contract because I’m going to beat his ass.”

Miller shouted about throwing 80 punches per round and at one point, the Englishman’s trainer Don Charles shouted: “Make sure you’re clean.”

But AJ cut in, and warned Miller that he would visit him on the other side of the stage if he kept running his mouth about others on the dais.

The more diplomatic Swede Otto Wallin followed. Salita, his promoter, said: “Otto has shown world class ability against Fury. He’s been working with Joey Gamache and coming off a win over [Murat] Gassiev, he has skills and confidence to win this big fight.”

“It’s a huge event and I’m happy to be part of it,” said Wallin, who announced he was a promotional free agent. “I got the call one week ago, we thought it made sense so it was an easy fight to make for us. I didn’t not expect to fight again this year [after Gassiev five weeks ago].”

Wallin, who meets Joshua, lost on points twice to Joshua in the amateurs and they’ve sparred together, too, back in 2016. Wallin, though, thinks Joshua peaked in 2018 and now he’s in decline.

“He’s on his way down and on his way out and I’m going to help him with that,” added Wallin. 

Hearn admitted Joshua was now in a tough but good fight. “Salita has been trying to land this fight for years,” Hearn said. “We respect him [Wallin], he’s well-schooled but we see something different from AJ now. Three fights this year... I believe there’s the best chapter to write in this story yet.”

Joshua would not take questions from Sahni, so it was left to Hearn to prompt his fighter.

“I can’t predict the future but I know where I want to go,” Joshua stated. “I’m a man of my word and I believe I’m going to be three-time champion of the world.” 

Joshua said he was “fully focused and determined to get back to my peak, if that’s what they call it.”

Meanwhile, in a presser that ran over the one-hour mark, Joseph Parker thanked his gymmate Tyson Fury and was happy to be fighting for the fourth time this year.

“I’ve never gone away from big fights or opportunities and I can’t wait to get back in camp and work for this fight,” Parker explained, adding that he would be calling on Fury for advice, given the Morecambe giant has fought Wilder three times. “I know what he can do but I’m coming here to win.”

Dereck Chisora, who was in attendance, heckled Parker shouting “Lights out.” 

Parker replied: “For you.” 

Wilder was as relaxed as anyone when it was finally his turn to talk.

“It’s been a journey,” Wilder said. “I’m very excited to be here today it’s overwhelming to be a room with so many fighters and a blessing to have so many promoters come together.”

“They [fans] come to see knockouts and when I come that’s what I come to deliver and I’m on the same mission to regain my title and unify the division. I think highly of Joseph Parker, he’s an amazing human being and a great fighter and it will be a great feeling to share a ring with him once and for all. All these fighters here, we’re all warriors.”

Will it be a KO?

“That’s what I come to do. That’s my only mission.” 

Asked about the possibly impending match with Joshua if they both come through Parker and Wallin respectively, Wilder said: “It’s good to be in the same room to see him face to face I wish you nothing but the best but hopefully we can make it happen.” 

At the start of the press conference, Alalshikh emerged from the shadows on a balcony and told everyone that he had a vision for boxing and that, after staging Tyson Fury v Francis Ngannou, this was now the second phase of his plan.

“This is a great day for the boxing fans,” he said. “When Frank Warren, my friend, said four months ago it was a game changer he meant it, it’s a game changer.”

He said he wants to continue to deliver big fights and big events 

“Great fights,” he proclaimed. “We want to see all the stars and in good fights, we will do this if they [the promoters] help us. Please help us deliver good fights to the market because I am a fan.”

Warren agreed that Fury-Ngannou was the key to the door that has led to the December 23 bonanza, and ironically given it was a statement from the network DAZN (Game. Changed) it was being used by Warren today.

“This is historical and do you know what changed the game? The first fight [Fury-Ngannou]. That was the key to the door.” 

Of the promoters, Warren said: “[We’re] Like-minded and working together and we’re doing it for the fans and we are delivering it for the fans and he [Alalshikh] has made this happen and I think he speaks for all of us.”

“There’s big commitment to do fights in the future. There’s a huge commitment, for me it’s the best sport in the world, the most dramatic sport of all.”

Hearn and Warren both agreed that it is the best card they have seen.

“We all want the sport of boxing to grow,” said Hearn. “We might be rivals, we might be competitive but we want the best for our fighters. I’ve never seen a card come together at speed like this.”

A lot of the credit was given to George Warren, Frank’s son, for helping bridge so many gaps to make it happen.

A lot of moving parts have come together. The Saudi Arabian impact on all of sport has been enormous, and it looks as though boxing is going to have a pretty serious relationship with the Kingdom through 2024.