Rotting skin, loose eyeballs and bloody signatures: Anthony Joshua stars in a surreal boxing trailer

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Rotting skin is peeling off of Anthony Joshua’s face as he signs a blood contract with Eddie Hearn. Somewhere on the street outside, Deontay Wilder – relying on what little is left of his mind – careens a van around a corner before mowing down a zombie. In the passenger seat, promoter Frank Warren is hanging on for dear life; or he would be, if he was not already the embodiment of the living dead. Elsewhere in this post-apocalyptic, zombified town, Filip Hrgovic reaches into a glass and grabs his eyeball, before popping it back into his battered skull. Joseph Parker is staring into the distance, until suddenly he's staring at you, having rotated his head 180 degrees atop his creaky spine. This, in case you were wondering, is the trailer for ‘Day of Reckoning’.

On 23 December, the heavyweights above will compete in Saudi Arabia, all on one card and joined by Otto Wallin, Daniel Dubois, Jarrell Miller and more. On paper – and this event will print plenty of paper – it will be perhaps the most impressive concentration of boxing star power and talent ever on one night. In modern boxing, Joshua vs Wallin and Wilder vs Parker are main-event bouts, but their undercards would typically leave a lot to be desired. On 23 December, however, one of those main-event bouts will have to serve as the chief support, and the undercard will feature the likes of light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and Jai Opetaia (who may still be a cruiserweight world champion come fight night, unless he is forced to vacate his title).

And just as this impending gathering of boxers is unprecedented, the promotion has been, too. That is not only in the sense that bitter rivals Warren and Eddie Hearn were seen on stage together at the launch press conference for ‘Day of Reckoning’ (the pair had in fact never met until that day in November). The event poster depicts all of the biggest names from a fight card full of big names, sat around a table and staring up at the camera. It is an arresting visual, only outdone by this week's zombie-themed trailer.

The video is admittedly bizarre, but just as the press conference and poster showed the way in which stupefying amounts of money can pierce fighters’ pride and allow them to gather on one stage and around one table, the trailer demonstrates how those same sums can convince the baddest men alive to sport prosthetics and make-up, engage in cartoonish scenes, and pretend that they are, well, very much unalive.

The clip is of impressively cinematic quality, and it is coloured with creativity and tinged with humour, in the same vein as the promotional video for October’s Saudi clash between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou. That short film, perhaps one of the greatest fight promos ever, was produced by Academy Films, as was the promo for ‘Day of Reckoning’. (The first promo was made for TNT Sports and directed by Seb Edwards, while this week’s was made for Dazn and directed by Romain Chassaing.) That strange Fury vs Ngannou super-fight, between the best heavyweight boxer on the planet and the best heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world, of course also took place in Riyadh. ‘The Battle of the Baddest’.

The ‘Day of Reckoning’ promo, though, is not just curious because of its horror-movie-inspired visuals. Unlike in the Fury vs Ngannou video, the main characters here are not presented as rivals. Joshua and Wallin do not share a still, nor do Wilder and Parker, for example. These zombified fighters are not at odds with each other, but rather with the nameless, soulless ghouls around them. The boxers, in a sense, are all on one team. It is a unique angle in a sport that has long been built on the premise – often a false one – that opponents hate each other. Perhaps it was a creative choice intended to subtly convey the messaging of Saudi adviser Turki Alalshikh: that the state intends to grow the sport of boxing, so fighters and promoters must set aside their differences and pull in one direction.

Some viewers will be cynical, naturally, and no level of eye-catching promotion should dispel the unease brought about by the state’s sportswashing. In fact, it could be argued that any eye-catching promotion is essentially an example of that very sportswashing, while also an example of the work of many talented creatives.

If the ‘Day of Reckoning’ event shows how Saudi Arabia is changing the face of boxing, the ‘Day of Reckoning’ trailer shows how Saudi Arabia is changing the face of boxing promotion – bloody eyeballs, ripped cheeks and all.

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