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Joshua-Ruiz II is headed to Saudi Arabia and many are Indignant

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  • Joshua-Ruiz II is headed to Saudi Arabia and many are Indignant

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    By Arne K. Lang

    Several days ago, Gareth Davies, the boxing writer for the Telegraph, told his readers that the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. was headed to Saudi Arabia. We filed that story in the rumor bin, but today it was confirmed. In a press conference at London’s swanky Savoy Hotel, televised live throughout the U.K. on Sky Sports, promoter Eddie Hearn revealed that Joshua-Ruiz II will transpire on Dec. 7 in a specially built stadium in Diriyah, a town on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capitol and largest city.

    Joshua and Ruiz met on June 1 at Madison Square Garden. It was Joshua’s U.S. debut. The Englishman, whose family roots are in Nigeria, was undefeated (22-0, 21 KOs) and owned three of the four significant heavyweight belts. Andy Ruiz, who took the fight on four weeks notice, had lost only once in 33 starts but was a massive underdog. And he scored a massive upset, making history as the first boxer of Mexican extraction to win a world heavyweight title. Knocked down in the third round, the chubby Ruiz returned the favor twice before the round was over and knocked Joshua down twice more in the seventh before the bout was stopped.

    Joshua-Ruiz II, billed as “Clash on the Dunes,” will be the third professional boxing event in Saudi Arabia. On Sept. 20 of last year, Callum Smith met George Groves in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series 168-pound tournament. This past July, Amir Khan fought Billy Dib.

    Khan, who co-promoted the event and purportedly earned $7 million for what was little more than a glorified exhibition, predicted that the Arab nation would soon become a popular destination for big fights. “We intend to make Saudi Arabia a big fight capitol just like Las Vegas, New York, and London,” he said at a pre-fight meeting with reporters.

    We commented that it wouldn’t surprise us at all if that came to pass. Boxing promoters follow the money and the Saudi royal family, which controls the purse strings for the Saudi General Sports Authority, which controls 24 sporting venues, is awash in it. Among his other hobbies, GSA chairman Prince Abdullah Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud owns a 50 percent stake in the Sheffield United soccer team and another 50 percent stake in a soccer club in Belgium. He has yet to acquire an interest in a U.S. sports franchise, but that may yet come. Prince Abdullah is said to be a big fan of the San Francisco 49ers.

    Saudi Arabia, a nation of about 33.5 million, slightly more than a third of whom are immigrants, is one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. It paid a big site fee to land the Joshua-Ruiz rematch. Reports vary from $40 million to as high as $100 million.

    At today’s press conference, Eddie Hearn skirted the subject of money but plugged his promotion as “an iconic moment that could change the sport of boxing forever.” This event, said Hearn, will go down in history with the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ and the ‘Thrilla in Manila.’”

    To deflect concerns about the logistics of holding the fight in Saudi Arabia, Hearn noted that Riyadh is only six hours away from London by plane and that everyone who buys a ticket will automatically receive a 30-day visa. The time difference between the two countries is only two hours which means that the fight will likely air around 9:00 pm in the UK, five hours earlier in New York. A pay-per-event in the U.K., it will be live-streamed on DAZN in North America.

    But Hearn has bigger concerns than logistics. The Saudi regime has come under attack for human rights abuses, for waging a war of attrition in neighboring Yemen, and even the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A United Nations-led inquiry concluded that the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October of last year was “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials.

    Coining a new word, Felix Jakens, the head of the U.K. branch of Amnesty International, condemned Saudi Arabia for “using sports to ‘sportswash’ their severely tarnished image.” “Money over morals” was the headline or sub-headline in several British papers.

    As Hearn noted, Saudi Arabia is becoming a major player in many sports, not just boxing.

    The WWE was among the first to penetrate the Saudi market. The organization began a series of shows in April of 2014. The April 27, 2018 event, witnessed by an announced crowd of 60,000 at King Abdullah Stadium near Jeddah, included a 50-man battle royal and was rightly billed as the Greatest Royal Rumble.

    The was the first WWE event in Saudi Arabia that women were allowed to attend, although they had to be accompanied by a male escort. Constraints against women have gradually loosened in recent years. In 2013, girls were allowed to take physical education classes in public schools. In 2015, Saudi women were granted the right to vote in local elections. Last year the King issued a decree allowing women to drive a car.

    Hearn has said that women will be welcome at the Joshua-Ruiz rematch. Whether any will be allowed to enter the stadium unattached, if so inclined, remains to be seen.

    Can Anthony Joshua accomplish what Lennox Lewis accomplished not once, but twice, namely avenging a shocking defeat? That’s a story for another day. For the record, the early line sees Joshua a consensus 16/5 (minus-320) favorite.

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    Yes yes and on top of that Saudi body count sits 9/11.


    • Kid Blast
      Kid Blast commented
      Editing a comment
      Never forget..................

  • #3
    Not my first choice as venue, but I'm not losing any sleep over it. The more we keep politics out of boxing, the better.


    • #4
      I'll add that I just hope we don't return to the '70s, where heavyweight championship bouts ridiculously took place in Caracas, Kingston, or Kinshasa. If both fighters are American (which, granted, is not the case here), the venues should be in the U.S. Maybe Yankee Stadium?


      • #5
        Will ring card girls be required to wear a burka over their bikini?


        • #6
          Could be that events like this will increase the pressure from within for reform and tolerance ..exorcise the beast from the inside so to speak ..relaxing the rules for appearance purposes and then tightening them up again is gonna make those oppressed want change ...and look at the world stage being offered to do just this .


          • #7
            This is perplexing to me why after getting thrashed in America by Ruiz, AJ would want this vitally important rematch to be anywhere other than at Wembley Stadium in UK. Saudi is a novelty location for novelty events (WWE nostalgia shows) designed specifically to extract Saudi money from Saudi coffers like oil from the ground. They don't know know shiit about boxing and boxing is not something they do over there. Having deployed to middle earth with the US Army I can tell you it takes a lot of getting used to just being there, it's like the friggin moon in so many ways. The notion that Anthony Joshua will just show up, dominate Ruiz (and his new desert environment) is a remote pipe dream at best. I expect a funky result not seen by many and that's totally by design. This event is being hidden from and kept away from traditional boxing eyes but I don't yet know why.


            • #8
              I am enjoying the byplay here. Thanks guys.

              I'm with NY Tony as far as keeping politics out of boxing and won't be publishing any anti-Saudi editorials, but this is much bigger than what we think of as politics in this country.

              Yes, women in Saudi Arabia were granted the freedom to drive a car last year, but I am reading that the Saudis arrested a number of prominent women's rights advocates right before lifting the ban.

              One of Eddie Hearn's most valuable assets is Katie Taylor. Hearn is being encouraged to put her on the undercard, but that will never happen. The WWE was prohibited from using any women wrestlers on their Saudi shows.

              There are not many female journalists on the boxing beat, but there are a few and a real big mega-fight (such as Pacquiao-Mayweather) always attracts female reporters from high-circulation magazines such as "People" -- and there's a People-type magazine in every country.

              Gareth Davies writes that a woman that wants to cover Joshua-Ruiz II, and presumably that includes a publicist and a woman who is part of a TV production crew, will need to get a "special dispensation" whatever that means.

              In terms of media coverage, this fight will be far, far bigger than any previous sporting event or quasi-sporting event (WWE) in the Arab world. Last I checked, the New York Times didn't cover WWE.


              • Kid Blast
                Kid Blast commented
                Editing a comment
                I totally disagree. It's impossible to keep politics out of boxing if sporstwashing is involved. You can minimize it but you can't make it vanish.

            • #9
              WWE tailors (censors) their product for Saudi sensibilities.

              As Arne mentioned, that means no Charlotte Flair et al.

              Boxing will likewise have to do the same. I don't like it. 👎


              • #10
                It's about the boxers and their making the most money. If it's on the desert landscape, so be it. If it's in some African country, so be it. Wherever they can make the MOST money.


                • #11
                  One additional note with this bout if it fact takes place in Saudi Arabia on December 7th. There is a seven hour time difference with the US which puts an eta on the main event as presumably somewhere between 5:00 and 6:30 eastern time. This is smack dab in the middle of the SEC Championship game which begins at 4:00 eastern. College football is king among-st many sports fans in the US and for the casuals the SEC championship will probably take priority over Joshua-Ruiz II. So this won't help boost subscriptions for DAZN. I get the money going to Saudi Arabia but this seems to be some near minded thinking and not understanding the US audience by those putting on this event.


                  • #12
                    I don't think Hearn is very impressed with American fight fans.

                    I think he thinks we have not shown the proper appreciation.

                    And that we'd rather steal/stream than buy all into an event.


                    • Kid Blast
                      Kid Blast commented
                      Editing a comment
                      I think you might be onto something.

                  • #13
                    The American fight fan has become a liability.

                    And we complain about frikkin everything.

                    I bet the Saudis won't trash the event on Twitter.

                    Or refuse to pay.


                    • Kid Blast
                      Kid Blast commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Gold bullion doesn't ounce.