Joshua and Parker lead the way after Fury and Usyk’s 2023 flops

 | January 02 | 

4 mins read

deontay wilder joseph parker frank warren

The heavyweight division left it late to dazzle us in 2023. A listless year included both champions labouring for controversial wins in their only fights of the annum. Meanwhile boxing politics occupied headlines that should have been devoted to a litany of fights we never saw. No Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk. No Andy Ruiz Jr vs Deontay Wilder. No Anthony Joshua vs Fury or Wilder. The banner division was in such disarray that people were willing to anoint Francis Ngannou the saviour, despite his debut coming in a losing effort to Fury.

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But the heavyweight division pulled up out of its nosedive as Christmas approached. The boon was solely down to the Day of Reckoning card staged in Saudi Arabia two days before Christmas. The Gulf state’s motivations for hosting the stacked show remain highly questionable, but it can’t be denied that the event shook up the heavyweight landscape.

Agit Kabayel’s fourth-round knockout of Arslanbek Makhmudov anointed a fresh challenger and ended the rise of another. Daniel Dubois reminded doubters of his quality with an excellent performance to stop unbeaten Jarrell Miller in ten rounds. But this night of heavyweight redemption was just getting started,

Joseph Parker posted a buzzer-beater for 2023’s upset of the year by swarming a subdued Deontay Wilder. The New Zealander rocked ‘The Bronze Bomber’ at times as he expertly outboxed and outfought the former WBC heavyweight champion. It was as measured and as cerebral a display as the sport had seen all year. Blame the matchmakers for scuppering Joshua-Wilder with an unnecessary roadblock, Parker was just doing his job. He did it to perfection.

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Thus, Joshua had to walk to the ring to face the impressive Otto Wallin with no tangible prize on the line. Obviously a win remained crucial, as it always will be for a fighter who had lost two of his last four fights. But the Wilder windfall had evaporated into the Riyadh air. 

Joshua boxed with admirable focus and no shortage of viciousness, something that had been missing from his game in recent bouts. Conscious of the war Fury had endured with Wallin, ‘AJ’ ensured the Swede never got into the fight. He boxed at range before opening up with shots, pounding Wallin out of contention in the fifth round. A richly satisfying victory was accomplished, even against a backdrop of uncertainty post-Wilder.

Joshua and Parker could both stake a valid claim as Heavyweight of the Year based on their 2023 activities. ‘AJ’ went 3-0, beating Jermaine Franklin, Robert Helenius and Otto Wallin. His first performance was tentative, his second he warmed into before securing a highlight-reel knockout while he dazzled in his third. 

Parker went one better, going 4-0. His overall competition was weaker. He saw off British cruiserweight Jack Massey, Faiga Opelu and Simon Kean. But the Wilder win was the biggest any heavyweight secured in 2023. Despite his status as a former WBO heavyweight champion, it could be argued last year was Parker’s finest in the sport.

Neither of the heavyweight champions can claim to have enjoyed similar success. Usyk defended his WBA, WBO and IBF belts just once. In that bout, a ninth-round knockout of Dubois, Usyk hit the canvas from a low blow. Most observers felt it was a legal punch and that the Ukrainian should have lost his belts then and there. 

Fury also couldn’t provide an inspirational performance to increase hype for an undisputed title fight with Usyk. ‘The Gypsy King’ was knocked down and battered by ex-UFC star Ngannou in the latter’s boxing debut. As an aperitif before the undisputed main course, it was useless. As the sole fight of 2023 from the supposed best heavyweight in the world, it was worthless.

Thus Fury vs Usyk is a fight not just for four title belts but also for relevance. Joshua and Parker’s careers have done a 180 since the close of 2022. Both men entered 2023 trying to rebound from defeat. ‘AJ’ and Parker ended the year unbeaten and with signature victories in their back pockets. 

Fury and Usyk can put their annus horribilis behind them of course. The victor of their undisputed title showdown will go down in the history of the sport as the first undisputed heavyweight ruler since Lennox Lewis. An irrevocable position that will survive long after they have retired. But before the victor hangs up their gloves, they might just have a date with destiny against one of 2023’s standout heavyweights. It’s still Fury and Usyk’s world, but Joshua and Parker aren’t content to just live in it.

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