By Ted Sares
The “Clash on the Dunes” between Andy “The Destroyer” Ruiz and Anthony “AJ” Joshua-- a highly anticipated rematch-- took place in Diriyah, a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 7. No, this wasn’t the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas or Wembley in London. Nor was it Madison Square Garden or the O2 Arena in London or Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
London, Cardiff and New York City were all discussed as possible hosts for the Ruiz vs. Joshua rematch.
But this was Saudi Arabia. AJ’s promoter Eddie Hearn eventually received an offer from Saudi Arabia for a site fee worth $40 million according to the Athletics' Mike Coppinger.
Earlier this year, British boxer Amir Khan stopped Billy Dib in the fourth round to win the WBC international welterweight title at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.
While two do not make a pattern, it seems safe to assume that more events will be staged in the “Dunes,” particularly given the financial success this one enjoyed, notwithstanding steady rain throughout. While there were no raucous British fans singing soccer songs, the extremely well-behaved crowd of 15,000 seemed pleased with the heavyweight fights capped by AJ’s “hit and not be hit” performance. Some called it “hit and run,” but he did plenty of hitting and won the same way Tommy Morrison beat George Foreman in 1993 and David Haye beat the Russian giant Nicolai Valuev in 2009. Team Joshua had a plan and AJ stuck to it by using focus and discipline. In so doing, he recaptured the WBA, IBF, and WBO title belts.
As for Andy, the first warning was the purchase of a Rolls Royce shortly after he won the title and it all went downhill from there.
So much for the fight; it has been vetted ad nauseum.
Any number of catchphrases seem apropos. “Embrace the Change” or “Follow the Money” come to mind and so does “Location, location, location.” A relatively new phrase made its way into the equation, namely “sportswashing,” as human rights groups accused the Saudi regime of using sports to wash over its record on human rights, but this was pretty much ignored as the events themselves stayed in the forefront
Promoter Hearn summed things up nicely. "I think this is a changing of the guard," Hearn said at a news conference in September. "Every promoter in boxing tried to get Saudi Arabia to stage a mega-event. I got it. Unfortunately, I have to take the flak that comes with it. ... I believe that not just Saudi Arabia, but Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar will be bidding for all these big fights in the future. So, you either embrace the change, or you turn your back on it, and you'd be an ***** (to turn your back on it)."
In an interview with the Guardian, Hearn said, "[I] believe that no one has the right to tell a fighter how and where they can earn their money… Our job is to provide opportunities to the fighters. If I put a proposal in front of Joshua and he said to me he was going to Saudi Arabia, and I advised him against, he would say: 'See ya.'"
When Jim Lampley was asked to describe the year 2019 in boxing, he replied, “the relentless tide of globalism strengthens,” and what took place in Diriyah will turbo charge this tide of globalism.
In recent years, Macau was an international venue. Before that there was the “Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire and “The Thrilla in Manila.” These locations did not sustain but Saudi Arabia, it says here, will sustain and not only in boxing. And that’s why the “Clash on the Dunes” is the TSS Boxing Event of the Year.
Ted Sares can be reached at email@example.com