For Rival Boxing Promoters, Saudi Money is the Salve of Appeasement


By Arne K. Lang

“Money makes strange bedfellows” goes an old saying. One was reminded of this chestnut yesterday (Nov. 15) when several of boxing’s power brokers joined forces at a press conference in London to ballyhoo the Christmastime extravaganza in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There will be eight fights in all, six in the heavyweight class. The Dec. 23 event which has been dressed with the tagline “Day of Reckoning,” is an appetizer, so to speak, for the Feb. 23, 2024 heavyweight title unification showdown between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Uysk at this same venue which was formally announced at another London press conference today.

How odd to see bitter British rivals Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn sharing the same stage and behaving as if they were old pals. Reportedly this was the first time they had ever come face-to-face.

The architect of this truce was His Excellency Turku Alalshikh.

An advisor to the royal court of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alalshikh is the chairman of the General Authority for Entertainment which is the driving force behind Riyadh Season, a sports, entertainment, and food festival which, like a World’s Fair, takes place over several months. The centerpiece of the opening week of the 2023-2024 “Season" was the crossover fight between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou.

In a broader sense, the architect of this détente isn't Alalshikh, but, rather, the bankroll that the Saudi rulers have put at his disposal. The rulers have very deep pockets and that is the understatement of the year.

Here’s the lineup. The matches are listed in descending order of perceived competitiveness as reflected in the consensus opening odds attached to the favorite.

Anthony Joshua (29-3, 23 KOs) vs. Otto Wallin (20-1, 14 KOs)

Odds: Joshua -425 (17/4). Joshua remains a huge star in Great Britain despite tepid efforts against Oleksandr Usyk (twice) and Jermaine Franklin. His detractors say he is gun-shy. Wallin, like Usyk, is a southpaw. He lacks a big punch, but has strong fundamentals.

Deontay Wilder (43-2-1, 42 KOs) vs. Joseph Parker (33-3, 23 KOs)

Odds: Wilder – 650 (13/2). Ring rust may be an issue for Wilder who has fought only once in the last two years and that fight (vs. Robert Helenius) consumed fewer than three full minutes. Contrastingly, it’s a quick turnaround for Parker who appeared here on October 28th, knocking out Simon Kean in the third round.

Arslanbek Makhmudov (18-0, 17 KOs) vs. Agit Kabayel (23-0, 15 KOs)

Odds: Makhmudov – 850 (17/2). The heavy-handed Makhmudov has knocked out 12 of his 18 opponents in the opening round. Kabayel’s pro career has been pocked with long periods of inactivity. This is his second fight of 2023 after fighting only once in each of the last six years.

Frank Sanchez (23-0, 16 KOs) vs. Junior Fa (20-2, 11 KOs)

Odds: Sanchez -1500 (15/1). A product of the formidable Cuban amateur system, Sanchez may be somewhat older than his listed age of 31. His signature win was a comfortable 10-round decision over Efe Ajagba. Fa has been fighting in the shadow of longtime rival Joseph Parker, a fellow Kiwi. His last bout was a 4-rounder designed as a confidence-booster after he was shocked by Lucas Browne.

Daniel Dubois (19-2, 18 KOs) vs. Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller (26-0-1, 22 KOs)

Odds: Dubois -2000 (20/1). Dubois was once considered the next big thing in the heavyweight division. Miller has a frame that can comfortably carry 300 pounds. A serial PED offender, he still owes Eddie Hearn money from his aborted 2019 fight with Anthony Joshua.

Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs) vs. Lyndon Arthur (23-1, 16 KOs)

Odds: Bivol -2000 (20/1). Bivol is best known for ending Canelo Alvarez’s 16-fight unbeaten streak. It figures that next year he will fight Artur Beterbiev in an all-Russian showdown with all four light heavyweight belts on the line. Arthur’s best win was a split decision over British countryman Anthony Yarde, but Yarde avenged that setback in high style, knocking out Arthur in the fourth round.

Jai Opetaia (23-0, 18 KOs) vs. Ellis Zorro (17-0, 7 KOs)

Odds: Opetaia -2500 (25/1). The lineal cruiserweight champion and generally considered the best fighter in his weight class, Opetaia will be defending his IBF belt. Zorro’s record includes a 3-0 mark in three 3-round fights contested on the same day in a tournament in Manchester. Ten of his 17 opponents had losing records. Ugh.

Filip Hrgovic (16-0, 13 KOs) vs. Mark DeMori 41-2-2 (26 KOs)

Odds: Hrgovic -5000 (50/1). This is an egregious mismatch. A 41-year-old Australian, DeMori last stepped up in class in 2016 when he was knocked out in the opening round by David Haye. His last four opponents had 97 losses between them.

According to a story in the London Mail, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ponying-up $75 million to host the event. That figure seems too low if there’s any substance to the rumor that Tyson Fury walked away with $50 million from his 10-round Riyadh Season rumble with Francis Ngannou. Just consider all the promoters and managers that will have a finger in the pot on Dec. 23. Lead promoter Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn and Warren’s U.S. partner Bob Arum are hardly the only ones that will share in the swag. If all the outside facilitators get to sit up front, there won’t be any room left for all of the various Excellencies.

The big question is whether the head honchos of the major promotional groups will continue to work together after this event is over. That would be a wonderful development. But we wouldn’t bet on it. We are reminded that Bob Arum and Don King occasionally laid down their swords to co-promote a mega-fight (think Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad) but that when the fight was over, they went their separate ways, their mutual loathing as rancorous as ever.
The lineup for the upcoming event in Riyadh looks stacked with talent, and it's exciting to see top fighters like Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder stepping into the ring.
It's anyone's guess whether the collaboration between the major promotional groups will continue beyond this event. History has shown that while alliances can form for specific fights, the competitive nature of the business often prevails in the long run.
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