This is the time of year when everyone is making New Year’s resolutions, deciding upon what they’ll accomplish in 2024 without having begun the work to accomplish it. Goal setting is important, as any self-help book will tell you, but equally as important is not working in absolutes, or setting goals so lofty that you’ll let yourself down. The latter is the rake that boxing can step on every once in a while, taking an unexpected blow to the face as it saunters towards its best laid plans. 

Prior to this weekend in Saudi Arabia, the assumption was that Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder would collide in March of next year, a long-awaited collision of two of the division’s stalwarts over the last decade. It was a fight that, if things were simpler in our sport, ought to have happened a while ago, a tantalizing combination of superstar personalities, not to mention big punchers with a hint of vulnerability as well. Finally, the roadblocks in the way of the fight had been removed and paved over with wheelbarrows of cash thanks to Saudi Arabia’s involvement. Joshua and Wilder simply needed to pass through the gates of Otto Wallin and Joseph Parker respectively, a formality meant to build excitement for the belt in March.

In Joshua’s case, he sped through that gate with a lead foot, exhibiting a confidence and aggression not seen in him in several years. Joshua battered Wallin, stopping him in five rounds after the one-sided action and damage to Wallin’s nose in particular became too much for his corner to justify. 

Joshua worked with yet another new trainer, Ben Davison, after spending time with Derrick James, Robert Garcia and his long time coach Rob McCracken in recent outings. If the results are any indication, Joshua has found the correct fit. The former champion was also aided by the fact that he was facing a southpaw, necessitating throwing his power hand with more regularity, in the shadow of a handful of fights in which Joshua was accused of lacking a particularly spiteful instinct. But beyond the sheer volume of right hands, Joshua’s movement appeared more confident, less hesitant, as he used level changes and pull counter right hands to bust Wallin up quickly. When that damage became apparent, Joshua wasn’t second guessing his ability to close the show either, he pursued Wallin with venom, and although he didn’t score a cinematic knockout, the damage he issued at the end of round five certainly contributed to Wallin’s corner’s decision to not send their fighter out to sustain more. 

"He's a scholar of the game and when we spoke, he saw what I have been trying to achieve in the business and you know when someone understands you and the lightbulb comes on and you just finally get it? That was it,” Joshua said of his partnership with Davison at the post-fight press conference. “He still pushed me towards achieving what I'm achieving. He hasn't tried to change me. He still pushes me towards what I'm trying to achieve, but because he knows boxing, he knows what I'm trying to do and how to get it out of me. He switched a ligthtbulb in me in this camp."

Armed with new knowledge, Joshua revitalized some of the public’s belief in his abilities. However, he also entered the Wallin bout with the knowledge that his supposed future opponent, Wilder, didn’t hold up his end of te bargain. Although Joshua claims he didn’t watch the bout as he was warming up and preparing for his own, he had “heard” the result, that Wilder had lost to Joseph Parker.

Wilder didn’t just lose to Parker, he lost every round in the eyes of many, including one of the official judges, whose 120-108 card was issued alongside cards of 118-111 and 118-110. For most of Wilder’s career, he was able to overcome a relatively low punch output and erase the memory of relatively quiet rounds with one right hand. On this night, that perfect right hand just never landed. Parker effectively nullified Wilder’s offense with movement, a sensible approach that didn’t encourage too many exchanges, and an overhand right that tamed Wilder’s jab. In all, Wilder landed just 39 punches, averaged 17 punches thrown per round and three landed per frame. 

As Parker himself admitted in speaking about the shots from Wilder he absorbed on his guard, his vaunted power didn’t disappear. He simply wasn’t able to access it. Earlier in the week, Wilder shared a video on his YouTube channel of him supposedly remaining in a cold plunge filled with giant blocks of ice for over thirty minutes, shivering and eyes closed by the end of the session. If one didn’t know any better, you’d think Wilder simply didn’t defrost in time for his bout days afterwards. 

“We had an awful night," Malik Scott told ESNews following the bout. "There’s a few things that he could’ve done more of, he could’ve done right. He came out of his base a lot. His chin came up a few times. The jab, it wasn’t filling blank spaces. [A lot] of times in the fight nothing was going on, and that was good for Parker, not good for Deontay.”

Wilder-Parker will join fights such as Tommy Morrison-Michael Bentt and Terry Norris-Keith Mullings when fans think of “upsets that ruined much bigger fights.” However, the magnitude of the fight that was spoiled and the relative ease with which he was defeated shouldn’t distract from the reality that Wilder lost to a top-level heavyweight. This was, according to Ring Magazine, the third-rated heavyweight in the world losing to the fifth-best—not exactly a stunning miracle of a victory. Wilder may be guilty of “spoiling” the Joshua fight, but he’s also guilty of taking a “tune-up” against an elite fighter, the exact type of scheduling one should want out of a top-level star.

On Instagram following the bout, Wilder seemed to have contextualized the off-night already.

“My timing was off, and I didn’t throw my punches, I didn’t let my hands go like I was supposed to. Sometimes you get like that. But you live to see another fight. You live to see another moment,” said Wilder. “I’m still full of happiness, still full of joy, still full of smiles. Sorry if I let anyone down but we will be back though! That’s the thing about it."