Andy Ruiz Jr-Anthony Joshua rematch in Saudi Arabia could ‘change boxing forever’
LONDON: The Andy Ruiz Jr-Anthony Joshua world heavyweight championship bout being held at a custom-built venue in Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah has the potential to “change boxing forever,” according to fight promoter Eddie Hearn.
Having lost his three world heavyweight IBF, WBA and WBO titles after a shock loss against Ruiz in June, Joshua is seeking to reclaim the belts in the Kingdom on Dec. 7.
Speaking at the Savoy Hotel in London to officially announce the Kingdom as the location for the eagerly anticipated rematch, Hearn of Matchroom Boxing called the fight the biggest of the year with the potential to match the Rumble in the Jungle and Thrilla in Manila.
He said: “There has been a lot of talk about where this fight would be held, we had approaches from Saudi Arabia, from Dubai, from Qatar and from Abu Dhabi.
“For us, we really wanted to go somewhere that believed in the sport of boxing, who had a vision for the sport, and I was lucky enough to attend the World Super Series final in Jeddah — it was a fantastic event.
“And it was not just the logistical set-up, but also the vibrancy of the crowd and the interest in the sport, so we already knew Saudi Arabia was keen to invest in the sport of boxing.
“We have an obligation to grow the sport of boxing in new areas and new regions, and for me, this event could change boxing forever,” he added.
Talking about the driving force behind the decision to choose Saudi Arabia as a location, Hearn admitted Ruiz wanted a neutral venue and would not fight in the UK, and said the attractive offer for the fighters from the Kingdom’s sporting authorities was a factor.
But he was full of praise of the potential of the Kingdom as a top class boxing — and sporting — venue of the future and Saudi Arabia’s commitment to using high-profile events to grow the sport at grassroots level.
“Anthony has always had the mindset of fighting all around the world, he’s been to this region before and he holidays not far away, and (was convinced) once he saw the vision, the stadium and the plans,” Hearn told Arab News.
“We are so naive if we think boxing is just Great Britain and America, and if Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region also decide to invest in boxing then the whole game is about to change.
“A lot of territories contacted us about one-off events, which would be the first time they have hosted boxing and they just wanted to do a massive event, it is different in Saudi Arabia.
“They have gyms in place, there is participation in the sport, they have staged other world championship events and as a promoter I want to be in there before everybody else.
“When we realised Saudi Arabia was serious about boxing we looked into the logistical side and that blew our mind as well,” he added.
Omar Khalil, the managing partner of Skill Challenge Entertainment — the group working with Matchroom Boxing — confirmed that fans who bought tickets for the fight would receive automatic entry visas to Saudi Arabia for 30 days.