Featured image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Less than 24 hours away from the Day of Reckoning’s opening bell and an Anthony Joshua versus Deontay Wilder fight has never seemed closer.

Come back in a day however and a meeting between the pair may be further away then ever before as both Otto Wallin and Joseph Parker stand in the way of one of boxing’s most highly anticipated showdowns.

Only four years have passed since another ambitious challenger in Andy Ruiz Jnr looked to have scuppered the chance of the pair ever trading leather after he savagely dropped and stopped Joshua to claim his unified heavyweight titles in New York.

The Brit’s attention turned to a rematch with Ruiz, which Joshua duly righted six months after suffering his first professional loss, only for former champion Tyson Fury to barge in and tear Wilder’s WBC title from his waist with a seven-round beatdown in February of 2020.

It was then Wilder’s turn to plot a route back to reclaiming his title – briefly halted by the pandemic – leaving Joshua to deal with boxing’s Rubik’s cube in Oleksandr Usyk.

The Ukrainian, after gathering all sanctioning body titles at cruiserweight, moved up to dispatch of Chazz Witherspoon and Derek Chisora before throwing another spanner in the works to dominate Joshua over 12 in front of a capacity London crowd in September 2021.

Joshua’s path to redemption was bound to be much more frictious than the one he walked on the way to righting the Ruiz wrong – a realisation which the two-time heavyweight ruler was forced to accept after an equally dominant performance by Usyk in their rematch 14 months later.

A concussed and emotional Joshua responded with a wincing speech post-fight before hurling Usyk’s championship belts over the ring ropes as reality began to seep in that he had crossed paths with a man who was simply better than him.

An emotional Joshua comes to terms with consecutive defeats against Usyk in 2021 and 2022. Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

The brutal lesson was one which Wilder was also familiar with, after he too had suffered his second consecutive stoppage defeat to Fury one month after Joshua’s initial meeting with Usyk.

Two men who seemed to destined to collide in boxing’s richest ever fight now find themselves desperately clamouring for a ledge to pull themselves back towards the pinnacle of the heavyweight division.

This weekend’s fights may move them one step closer to doing just that – against each other – providing both emerge unscathed.

Wallin: “Don’t call it an upset if I win”

Sweden’s Wallin (26-1, 14KOs) first drew attention after enduring 12 rounds with the aforementioned Fury in September 2019.

Despite losing widely in a fight which remains his only pro defeat, Wallin opened a large gash over the right eye of the Brit which many felt warranted the fight being stopped and victory being awarded in favour of the Swede.

Wallin has rebounded with six consecutive victories since including a unanimous decision win over former Joshua opponent Dominic Breazeale and most recently a domination of Murat Gassiev over 12 in Turkey.

While neither victory warrants Wallin entering the night as favourite against two-time champion Joshua, he insists getting his hand raised shouldn’t be received as when the Brit first loss to Ruiz in 2019.

“Of course I’m nervous. It’s a big fight but I’m ready for it. I’ve worked very hard to be here and now it’s time to enjoy the moment, win the fight and move on,” he said on Thursday.

“People talk about upsets, but I’m gonna win the fight and you shouldn’t call it an upset. It’s just natural, this is my time.”

Wallin is adamant he will ruin any Joshua-Wilder plans with a victory of his own in Riyadh. Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Joshua: “I will look good when winning”

Joshua meanwhile enters the night knowing losing is not an option if he is to stand any chance of stepping in with the division’s big hitters.

From the outside looking in, the 34-year-old has appeared as uncertain outside of the ring as he has when stepping between the ropes in recent years.

A tentative unanimous decision win over Jermaine Franklin in April was followed by a slightly improved performance against Robert Helenius which saw the Finn laid out in seven rounds four months ago.

The Wallin fight will however see a fourth different trainer in Joshua’s corner in as many fights following the introduction of Ben Davison who coincidentally led Fury to his victory over Wallin in 2019.

Long-time cornerman Rob McCracken made way for Robert Garcia in the lead-up to the second Usyk fight before Texas-based trainer Derrick James stepped in for his two most recent victories.

Joshua teamed up with Davison after previously spending time in Texas with renowned trainer Derrick James. Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Joshua has however explained his preference to remain in England during his preparations for Wallin – a decision some have taken as a sign of his uncertainty about the appropriate approach to reaching the top again.

The cornerman conveyor belt has coincided with a Joshua who has cut an intense character in the run-up to the weekend, no doubt exacerbated by the rubbing of shoulders with figures who have consistently thrown jibes his way in the past.

Whether it be Frank Warren, Dev Sahni or Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller (who was set to meet ‘AJ’ in 2019 before testing for multiple banned substances), the coming together of boxing’s key figures has also seen Joshua placed in a room with some of his loudest critics in recent years.

The two-time champion insists he remains in the right frame of mind as he looks to move one step closer with a potential showdown against Wilder in 2024.

“I’m here to fight – I’m not here to party and get caught up in the glitz and glamour. Of course I’m tense, I want to win, and I wanna hurt my opponent as well,” he said.

“Pure focus on Saturday. That’s where my heart and my soul is…on Otto Wallin and doing what I know I can do.”

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