On December 23rd, at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the boxing world will turn its gaze to a puzzling yet captivating match-up between Anthony Joshua and Otto Wallin. What makes this fight particularly intriguing is the unexpected insertion of a rematch clause, a move that has sparked intense debate and speculation about Joshua’s strategy and mental fortitude.
Eddie Hearn’s revelation that a rematch clause has been sewn into the fabric of this seemingly uneven matchup is perplexing. Joshua, a former Olympic gold medalist and two-time unified world heavyweight champion, has stumbled recently, with a record of 26-3, 23 KOs. Yet, his decision to have a safety net against the 33-year-old Swedish fringe contender Wallin, sporting a 26-1, 14 KOs record, is a strategic conundrum.
Hearn defends this decision by touting Joshua as “the biggest star” in boxing. This statement, however, is contentious. Many argue that this title rightly belongs to other global icons like Canelo Alvarez or Terence Crawford. The necessity of a rematch clause, especially against an opponent perceived as a step down from Joshua’s recent challenges, remains a puzzling decision, suggesting a lack of confidence that doesn’t befit a fighter of Joshua’s stature.
Joshua’s career, albeit glittering, has not been without its dark moments. His shocking losses to Andy Ruiz Jr. and Oleksandr Usyk have dented his once-impenetrable aura. These defeats, particularly to fighters like Usyk and Ruiz, who many believed were outmatched, raise questions about Joshua’s legacy. Was his Olympic gold a product of fortune rather than skill? Is his stardom more a testament to British boxing’s marketing than to his pugilistic prowess? These are questions that the boxing community continues to grapple with.
For Wallin, this fight represents a golden opportunity. Despite lacking the knockout power of a typical heavyweight, his skills should not be underestimated. A potential Wallin victory over Joshua would be catastrophic for the latter’s career, especially outside his loyal British fan base, which has shown remarkable forgiveness towards fallen heroes like the 39-year-old journeyman Dereck Chisora.
Hearn’s eyes are already set on a future clash between Joshua and the American powerhouse Deontay Wilder, a matchup that fans salivate over. However, this dream could quickly evaporate if Joshua falters against Wallin. The rematch clause, therefore, acts as a safeguard, ensuring that even in defeat, Joshua remains in the high-stakes game.
Joshua’s recent public persona has seen a dramatic shift. Gone is the reserved, diplomatic champion; in his place, a more aggressive, confrontational figure has emerged. This change is perhaps a psychological armor, forged in the aftermath of his defeats and the subsequent soul-searching. Hearn notes this transformation, emphasizing the need for Joshua to be less respectful and more dominant against Wallin.
In stark contrast to Tyson Fury’s theatrics, which are often viewed as part of his eccentric charm, Joshua’s newfound abrasiveness has led to concerns about his mental state. Words like “unhinged” and “disturbed” have been whispered in boxing corridors, though these might be unjust exaggerations. Instead, what we are witnessing could simply be a fighter’s natural response to adversity and criticism.
The December 23rd showdown is more than just a fight against Wallin; it’s a battle against public perception, against the ghosts of defeats past, and a fight for redemption. Whether this match will restore Joshua’s standing or further dismantle his legacy remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain: the world will be watching, waiting to see if this giant of British boxing can rise once more or if he will continue to grapple with the shadows that threaten to engulf his storied career.