Anthony Joshua put in a terrific performance to beat Otto Wallin inside the distance but Deontay Wilder’s shock points loss to Joseph Parker on the same bill scuppered plans for the long-awaited heavyweight showdown.
Briton Joshua boxed magnificently in Saudi Arabia, dominating Wallin before the Swede’s corner pulled him out of the fight at the end of the fifth.
Earlier in the night, American Wilder appeared a shadow of himself in Riyadh, and was hurt badly in the eighth as New Zealander Parker was awarded a unanimous decision.
“I heard that Deontay lost. So what? He’ll be back. Deontay, everything that he said about me, I could rip him apart right now, but I’m going to take the higher ground,” Joshua said.
“You can come back. If he wanted to, he can come back. I’m sure everyone still wants to see that fight.”
Parker, also a former world champion, was awarded a unanimous decision with the judges’ scoring it 118-111, 118-110 and 120-108.
Saudi organisers had already pencilled in the Joshua-Wilder bout for next year.
While no contract had been signed, the pair were expected to enter the ring post-fight and announce a deal to fight at some point in early 2024.
Wilder admitted all the talk of a fight at least five years in the making had been “a distraction”, although Joshua more than did his part.
After the fight, promoter Eddie Hearn said Joshua is most likely going to face Croatia’s Filip Hrgovic for a vacant IBF world title, bidding to become a three-time world champion.
But as the dust settles in Riyadh, many boxing fans will be cursing their luck, as Joshua v Wilder slips away once again.
Wilder entered the ring wearing a crown, but it has been almost four years since he reigned over the heavyweight division.
The 38-year-old was introduced with his newly acclaimed nickname ‘Dr Sleep’.
After some cagey opening rounds he may have put the crowd to sleep rather than his opponent.
The inactive Wilder had boxed just three minutes in the past two years, signs of ring rust were expected. But losing rounds is nothing new to Wilder. Numerous times before he has looked out of his depth, only to unleash that ferocious right hand.
Parker, 31, grew in confidence and traded with Wilder in the fourth, whipping a left hook into the body and hurting Wilder with an exchange on the inside.
Was the ghost of the Tyson Fury trilogy, when Wilder drew one and lost two, haunting him? His timing and judgement of distance was off.
Parker came forward with bursts.
In between rounds Parker’s trainer, Andy Lee, told his fighter to go after Wilder, that a knockout would come. “This is your moment,” Lee said.
Wilder enjoyed his best moment in the sixth, landing a right but without the ferocity which has stopped 42 opponents in 43 wins.
Former WBO champion Parker was the busier, more accurate boxer, comfortably winning most rounds.
Wilder had no answer for what was to come in the eighth.
Parker landed the most thunderous overhand right.
Wilder, backed into the ropes, was in trouble as Parker continued the attack.
Saved by the bell, Wilder poked his tongue out as he stumbled back to his corner. All the while Joshua was getting his hands wrapped and going through warm-ups in the dressing room, unaware of what was unfolding in the ring.
Wilder was telegraphing his right hands as Parker continued to land more cleanly as the fight entered the championship rounds.
New Zealand’s Parker was on a run of three straight wins and two knockouts. He was demonstrating just why many pundits tipped him for the win.
For all Parker’s dominance, there was still a puncher’s chance for Wilder.
He threw the kitchen sink in the 12th, but missed by an absolute mile.
Wilder refused to rule out retirement, but with just one win in four years his next move is uncertain.
With Joshua moments from making his ring entrance, his promoter Eddie Hearn told TNT: “It was the most one-sided heavyweight fight I’ve ever seen. It’s ruined our plans. We’ve got to go let Anthony Joshua know Wilder lost to Parker.”
The Saudis, promoters and boxing followers had jumped the gun.
There was still an air of disbelief as Sweden’s Wallin – in what is probably a boxing first – walked to the ring to ABBA’s ‘The Winner Takes it all’.
UFC star Conor McGregor and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo watched on as Joshua made his ring walk.
On a dramatic night for heavyweight boxing, there was a noticeably low-key atmosphere in the Kingdom Arena, with plenty of empty seats in the 6,000 capacity venue.
Joshua, unlike Wilder, began strongly.
The 34-year-old delivered a gut-wrenching body shot in the first and made southpaw Wallin’s legs buckle in the second with straight rights down the barrel.
The 2012 Olympic gold medallist has transitioned from an explosive power-punching finisher to a smarter, less reckless, boxer.
Joshua was enjoying his work in a measured, composed and dominant performance.
He connected with a brilliant left hook in the fifth.
It was one clean punch too many, with Wallin’s team deciding it was best the 33-year-old stayed put on his stool.
The Watford fighter called the win “just another fight” and although he did not rule out a bout with Wilder in the future, he now seems ready to set his sights on challenging for a world title.
With Oleksandr Usyk v Tyson Fury on 17 February in Saudi Arabia, a potential rematch between that pair could see the IBF title become vacant.
A belt Joshua and Hrgovic could contest.
“We’ve got bigger ambitions,” Joshua said of his three wins this year.
“As I said to Louis Theroux, we don’t celebrate when we win these fights, we celebrate when we win titles.”