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.”