Wilder and Joshua jostle for position

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In this March 3, 2018, file photo, Deontay Wilder, left, fights Luis Ortiz during the third round of the WBC heavyweight championship bout in New York. (AP )

JEDDAH, Dec 21(AP): Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua were once the main characters in heavyweight boxing’s soap opera.
Now they are extras.
While Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk continue preparations for a Feb. 17 unification bout in Saudi Arabia that will determine the division’s first undisputed champion this century, Wilder and Joshua are in the kingdom this weekend and fighting simply to stay relevant.

Wilder, the WBC champion from 2015-20, was dethroned by Fury in February 2020 and has fought only twice since. What kind of shape will the 38-year-old American be in when he takes on Joseph Parker, the WBO champion from 2016-18?
After that comes the main event on what has been labeled the “Day of Reckoning” as Joshua, the former WBA, IBF and WBO titleholder, fights Otto Wallin, a New York-based Swedish journeyman. Joshua has underwhelming wins over Jermaine Franklin and Robert Helenius on his record since back-to-back defeats to Usyk that left his career at a crossroads.

Whether Wilder and Joshua have the belief after their damaging losses to become heavyweight champion again is open to question. They are most likely to fight each other next – provided they both win in Jeddah – and the winner of what would be a big-money bout would, in theory, be in position to challenge for a world title.

“It’s the closest that it’s ever been in history,” Wilder said this week of a potential meeting with Joshua that he regards as “the biggest fight in the world.”
Maybe five or six years ago, but surely not anymore.
Not with Wilder having fought only Helenius since completing that trilogy against Fury in October 2021.
And not with Joshua appearing vulnerable and fragile after three losses in a five-fight span from 2019-22, crushing an aura he had built.

“I think he’s lost his confidence and momentum,” Wallin said of Joshua ahead of their fight, echoing the thoughts of many in boxing. “You can see the decline … Joshua looks unsure of himself.”
Joshua, a 34-year-old Brit who has been world champion twice after winning gold at the 2012 Olympics, has twice changed trainers to fuel his career rebuild and has been working with another – Ben Davison, who was once in Fury’s corner – for the Wallin fight. A long-time media darling, Joshua has been more tight-lipped since arriving in Saudi Arabia and seems to be all business this time.

“This position I am in is not a joke. It is serious,” Joshua told British newspaper The Daily Mail. “I understand why I am here and what I am doing. I understand the pressure that comes with it.”
Wallin, a southpaw like Usyk, is not a big puncher like Joshua and has won his last five fights on points. He is on a six-fight winning streak since losing to Fury in September 2019 but none have been against a top heavyweight.

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