Going into last night’s stacked card in Riyadh, a few people, promoter Frank Warren for one, said they felt there would be at least one big upset taking place over the course of the long fistic feast. It turned out there were two upsets, one pretty big, the other huge and possibly career-ending. Agit Kabayel scored a very important win in stopping previously unbeaten giant Arslanbek Makhmudov in four exciting rounds, while Joseph Parker walked away as the really big winner last night, this courtesy of his nobody-saw-it-coming unanimous decision win over Deontay Wilder.
Hardly anyone picked Kabayel to defeat the man-mountain who plenty of people were referring to as the scariest man in the sport, while nobody picked Parker to pull off a decision over Wilder. A sprinkling of experts did go out on a limb and pick a shock Parker win by way of stoppage, but did anyone, as is anyone, pick a Parker points win? Did you see such a pre-fight pick from anyone?
So, what now for last night’s two big winners? Kabayel, unbeaten and a two-time European heavyweight champion, deserves a big fight and he may well get one. It would be great to see the German get in there with maybe a Daniel Dubois (himself a big winner last night in shutting up Jarrell Miller’s big mouth), while some have said Kabayel deserves a shot at a world title. This doesn’t look like happening any time soon, however, as the two world champions, Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, are going to be busy over the coming months.
As for Parker, he ruined the big fight between Anthony Joshua and Wilder, this a fight that was not only in the works but was actually signed and was going to be officially announced last night after both former heavyweight champions won (Joshua doing his job in stopping a disappointing Otto Wallin with ease). Only Wilder didn’t win, former WBO heavyweight champ Parker did. And Parker ruined some big plans.
“We had signed the Wilder contract. It was going to be announced tonight, but that’s boxing,” Eddie Hearn said.
Indeed, we saw again last night how the heavyweight division in particular is so utterly unpredictable. Parker, with a great game plan, made Wilder look absolutely awful. Yes, ring-rust was also partly to blame for Wilder’s strange, listless, clumsy showing, but nothing can be taken away from Parker. One of the sport’s genuine good guys, the New Zealander is now right back near the top of the heavyweight pile. But will Parker get a world title shot?
Fury is best of friends with Parker so that fight’s out, and will Usyk perhaps retire after his two expected fights with Fury? Parker is still young at age 31, and maybe he, like AJ, will look to win a vacant belt if the titles become splintered after the Fury-Usyk rivalry is done with. There is already talk of Joshua possibly fighting Filip Hrgovic for the vacant IBF belt, and maybe Parker will get a shot at one of the other soon to be vacated belts?
But for now, Joseph Parker can celebrate the biggest win of his career, and he can look ahead to an eventful 2024. Maybe Parker could fight another former champ in Andy Ruiz, in a rematch of the fight Parker won via close decision some years ago? Ruiz was there at ringside yesterday, and he has already called for a return with Parker.
As for Wilder, well, what can we say? Is Wilder permanently out of bullets, or was it just a very bad night for him last night? Wilder, though, didn’t seem at all bothered by the defeat, smiling as he was in the post-fight interview. Might Wilder, financially sound and content with the way he forged a very successful career while basically armed with nothing more than uncommon punching power in his right hand, even retire?
Last night was a night that gave us knockouts, wide decision wins, blowouts, and shocks. It was, all told, a great night at the fights. And a reminder to some folks that nothing can be taken for granted in the sport of professional boxing.