Anthony Joshua vs Otto Wallin is one of AJ’s most intriguing fights yet – no, really

For weeks, boxing fans debated whether Anthony Joshua’s fight with Otto Wallin should headline Saudi Araba’s seismic Day of Reckoning event, or whether that distinction should be awarded to Deontay Wilder’s clash with Joseph Parker. There were arguments over whether Joshua or Wilder has the greater drawing power, which of the two is likelier to deliver a knockout, and which bout is likelier to be competitive or even deliver an upset.

In an effort to settle those individual debates diplomatically: Drawing power may depend on geography and demographic; as destructive as “AJ” can be, his American counterpart may have an edge when it comes to power; and while Wallin has a tidier record than Parker, the latter is a former world champion with an arguably stronger resume than the Swede. Wilder, then, may win out both in likelihood of producing a KO and being upset by his opponent, as strange as that sounds.

Ultimately, though, Joshua vs Wallin has been listed as Saturday’s main event, and that decision can be justified for finer, more intriguing factors than those above.

Firstly, there is Joshua’s history with Wallin. The Briton boxed the Swede twice as an amateur, outpointing him in 2010 and 2011. Each contest lasted just three rounds, but the heavyweights shared the ring again as sparring partners in 2016. At the time, Wallin told Sky Sports: “[In the amateurs] he was strong and fast, but I think he’s better technically and even stronger and faster now. He’s clever, too, now. You’ve got to be clever when you’re sparring him, move your head and be elusive to make him think. If you’re sitting back with him, he is going to get you out of there quick.”

Wallin was even asked whether he could fight Joshua officially again, this time as a professional. “Yes, you never know what the future holds.” The future is now, and Wallin has been less complimentary about Joshua in recent weeks than he was seven years ago.

Joshua (left) had stern words for Otto Wallin during their face-off in November

(PA Wire)

Although the 33-year-old began, “I would say he is still one of the best heavyweights out there, and he’s made an amazing career for himself,” he was quick to criticise Joshua. “There has been a decline, and I think he has reached his peak already,” Wallin told the Daily Mail. “I think he is mentally fragile, he’s not sure of himself. He cares a lot about what people think of him, and I think it’s hard for him when people are being critical or there are boos in the crowd.

“I think it’s the perfect time to face AJ. He was a seek-and-destroy kind of guy, very aggressive. Then, he lost to [Andy] Ruiz, he got stopped. He lost to [Oleksandr] Usyk twice. He knows he can lose and get hurt, and he doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like getting hit.”

Wallin was also keen to suggest that Joshua’s most recent change of trainer – his third in two-and-a-half years – could cost the 34-year-old, due to a lack of consistency in AJ’s corner. Indeed, Joshua has traded Rob McCracken for Robert Garcia for Derrick James for Ben Davison since 2021, and many fans are sceptical of the frequency of change and the partnership with Davison in particular.

Yet Davison has his own history with Wallin. The 27-year-old Briton was in Tyson Fury’s corner in 2019, when the “Gypsy King” battled through a nasty cut to secure a decision win against Wallin. That is not to say Joshua teamed with Davison specifically to prepare for Wallin; AJ had been training under the young coach in secret over the summer, and he was aware of the scepticism of fans and pundits – as he showed with a prickly response to a question about Davison in November, backstage at the Day of Reckoning press conference.

Davison (right) and Tyson Fury ahead of a fight with Otto Wallin in 2019

(Getty Images)

But of course, the more enthralling thread in Davison’s history with Wallin is actually his past with Fury, and even that encounter with Wilder. Joshua still hopes to box Fury one day, but a match-up with fellow ex-world champion Wilder seems to be next for AJ. Many figures in boxing have made that claim before, but sources insist to The Independent that Joshua vs Wilder will be just one of numerous mega-fights in Saudi Arabia in 2024.

Another interesting aspect of Saturday’s main event is Wallin’s southpaw stance, as Joshua – despite his specific success against the Swede – has struggled with southpaws at times, most notably in his two points losses to Usyk. Furthermore, Wilder is no southpaw, making a bout with Wallin a strange kind of preparation for a fight with the 38-year-old.

Perhaps the last key factor to consider is that Saturday marks Joshua’s third fight in eight months. The last time he fought so frequently was in 2016, and he has expressed his craving for activity in recent times. In that regard, this third outing of the year may be a good thing. It would be easier to make that case if it was his third straight fight under James, obviously, especially as his performance against Robert Helenius in August was an improvement upon his showing against Jermaine Franklin in April. Joshua laboured to a decision win over Franklin in his first fight under James, before scoring a stunning KO of Helenius in round seven.

Yet Leigh Wood, a recent world champion and a fellow client of Davison, believes that Joshua will strike sooner against Wallin – not in spite of AJ having a new trainer, but because of it. And don’t forget: Joshua has beaten Wallin before, and in a way, so has Davison.