Saudi Arabia can expect 'fireworks' when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev meet in final
Saudi Arabia can expect 'fireworks' when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev meet in final
On May 11 at King Abdullah Sports City, Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk and Russia’s Murat Gassiev will fight for the IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC cruiserweight titles in what — alongside the May 5 rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez — is expected to be the most significant fight of 2018. The winner will receive $10 million in addition to winning the first Muhammad Ali Trophy.
The competitive and dramatic nature of the past fortnight’s semifinals, in which Usyk outpointed Mairis Briedis and Gassiev stopped Yunier Dorticos, led to what Arab News understands was renewed interest from Russia to host the match-up involving one of its leading fighters in Gassiev. Usyk’s involvement led to further interest from his home country, but Saudi Arabia secured the rights in October when the quarter-finals were yet to conclude and are not about to give them up, especially now such a mouthwatering showdown is on the cards.
“We have an agreement with Saudi Arabia and are looking forward to putting a show on there on May 11,” said Kalle Sauerland, one of two German brothers based in London who run Sauerland Promotions and are taking a fight to Saudi Arabia for the first time. “We have a deal with Saudi Arabia. That’s very clear.
“There was a lot of interest from all over the place, especially in Eastern Europe, but this is a major statement for the brand that we found a significant partner interested in showcasing the first final. There were no confirmed fighters for the final. Of course there’s a financial element: It’s professional boxing, but in the end the decision wasn’t too difficult to make.”
“Some of the plans that the Saudis have to bring big sporting events there — they’ve acquired other interesting events — are very ambitious, and they have a great infrastructure,” Sauerland said. “I don’t see it as a big surprise. We said the Ali trophy would be a global tournament. The trophy travels: We’re all about firsts, and it’s a fitting story.”
Sauerland has joined forces with Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of the GSA, to stage the event, adding to the Kingdom’s growing sporting portfolio and signaling its intention to use sport as a vehicle for promotion and change.
“When I think about Saudi Arabia, I think about Jeddah, and also Riyadh,” Sauerland said. “The infrastructure there is very, very high end. There was an approach from the Saudis who were in the market for a major sporting product. In the world of sport in the past 12 months, the newest brand to launch that has appeared the most aggressively is the World Boxing Super Series.
“There’s been a great deal of investment: A six-figure-million fund has gone into the WBSS (owned by Comosa AG). The shareholders are very aggressive on the project and have a great deal of know-how, and that appealed to the Saudis, who are in a similar boat and want to attract a sporting product. It’s a great statement for the first season, and they’ve made a statement that they’re super keen on boxing.”
The winner of Usyk-Gassiev will become the first to simultaneously hold all four of the 200lb world titles and be considered the finest cruiserweight since Evander Holyfield.
“The Usyk-Gassiev final will be fireworks, it doesn’t get better,” Sauerland said. “After the initial draw (for the quarter-finals), people said ‘Nice tournament, but it’s so obvious who’s going to win it’. On an online poll 96 percent had Usyk. I’d love to do that poll today, because everyone’s suddenly swung. People are going to make Gassiev the favorite. Of the semifinal performances, Gassiev’s was better.”
Suggestions persist that Breidis and Dorticos, the two beaten semifinalists, could feature on the May 11 undercard, potentially against each other, but Sauerland said: “I like the idea, but Dorticos, the way that (defeat by Gassiev) finished, needs a tune-up and a break. You don’t put a guy with a head knockout in the ring against a guy like Breidis a few months later. That’s actually quite disgusting.”
Atletico beat Real Madrid 4-2 after extra time in Super Cup
- Atletico’s victory over their crosstown rival had added significance after they lost two Champions League finals to Madrid
- The loss leaves new Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui still having to prove that there is life after Ronaldo
TALLINN, Estonia: Atletico Madrid finally got the better of Real Madrid on the European stage, scoring twice in extra time to win 4-2 in the UEFA Super Cup final on Wednesday in their rival’s first game without Cristiano Ronaldo.
Atletico got off to a flying start with Diego Costa scoring the competition’s fastest goal just 50 seconds in, but Madrid came back to take a 2-1 lead as Los Blancos tried to prove they can still win trophies without Ronaldo and with a new coach.
But Costa equalized late in the match with his second goal before Saul Niguez and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion sealed the victory in extra time on a cool night in Estonia’s capital.
Atletico’s victory over their crosstown rival had added significance after they lost two Champions League finals to Madrid in 2014 and 2016. Diego Simeone’s team were also eliminated by Madrid in the 2017 semifinals.
“I’m elated,” Costa said. “Real Madrid has always beaten us in these finals. It was our turn to win a final.”
The loss leaves new Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui still having to prove that there is life after Ronaldo, who scored 450 goals in 438 matches before joining Juventus this summer and helped lead the club to three straight Champions League titles.
“I’m sad. I’m frustrated. It’s a final that we lost,” Lopetegui said. “But I also know that we will have to wake up and prepare ourselves for our first league match and start the season on the right foot.”
Gareth Bale showed glimpses of his pace and skill, but couldn’t mimic Ronaldo’s ability to decide a game on his own.
Instead, Costa was the one who dominated at the Lillekula Stadium in Tallinn. He overpowered Madrid’s center backs in the first minute after a long ball from Stefan Savic, first winning a header against Sergio Ramos and then muscling past Raphael Varane to cut into the area where he beat goalkeeper Keylor Navas at the near post.
Karim Benzema equalized in the 27th minute, heading in a pinpoint cross from Bale, who was able to break away from Lucas Hernandez on the right and curl the ball into his fellow forward’s path. Bale, who was given a freer role than he’s used to, caused trouble for Atletico’s defense in the first half as he switched between wings. He was Madrid’s main creative spark at that point, with his teammates constantly trying to feed him the ball.
He faded in the second half, but Lopetegui was pleased with Bale’s performance.
“Gareth has played very good. In this moment of the season, all the players are not in the best physical way,” the coach said. “We are happy with his performance and we hope he’s going to put in deserved performances in the next matches.”
Sergio Ramos scored a penalty in the 63rd minute after Juanfran Torres handled in the area as the ball flew over him from a corner.
Juanfran made up for it in the 79th by taking the ball off Marcelo near the touchline and then passing to Angel Correa. The substitute then skipped past a couple of Madrid defenders and cut the ball back from the byline to Costa, who poked the ball into the roof of the net.
In extra time, substitute Thomas Partey set up the decisive goal when he stripped the ball off Varane and played a one-two with Costa before dribbling toward the byline. Partey then cut the ball back to Saul Niguez, who volleyed the ball first-time to send the ball past Navas to make it 3-2 in the 98th minute. Koke finished Madrid off with a cool finish with 104 minutes gone.
Lopetegui, who joined Madrid in controversial fashion and was fired as Spain coach just before the World Cup, will need to show that he can build on the success of predecessor Zidedane Zidane and can win with new tactics.
At times, Madrid looked uncomfortable playing under the new possession-based system and seemed to miss Ronaldo’s flair and proficiency.
“We need to improve on the all the phases of the team,” Lopetegui said. “We don’t like to make mistakes.”
Madrid had to play without new goalkeeper Thibault Courtois, as the former Atletico player didn’t even dress for the match. Spanish media reports said the team didn’t register him in time with UEFA following his transfer from Chelsea.
For Atletico, the victory gives the team a boost before the season starts, Simeone said.
“The club is growing. We have a new stadium,” he said. “We have players who want to join us, players who don’t want to leave us. I think this speaks volumes.”