Saudi Arabia can expect 'fireworks' when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev meet in final

Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev face-off ahead of the big fight in Jeddah. (@WBSuperSeries)
Updated 07 February 2018
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Saudi Arabia can expect 'fireworks' when Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev meet in final

LONDON: The General Sports Authority (GSA) of Saudi Arabia defeated rival interest from Russia, Ukraine and Chicago to stage the final of the cruiserweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series in Jeddah.
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.”
The Kingdom recently hosted a World Series squash event, staged its first ever motorsport event last week and Tuesday announced plans to put on a new horse racing championship with prizes totaling more than $17 million, making it one of the sport’s richest events.
“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.”


Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

Updated 24 May 2018
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Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

  • Mohamed Salah lines up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday
  • Mohamed Salah has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region

LONDON: On Saturday Mohamed Salah will line up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
He will do so not only with the every member of the Red army behind him, but also the entire Arab world.
That is testament to his stratospheric rise — over the past nine months the Egyptian ace has gone from being a very good player, but one deemed as needing to justify his $52 million transfer fee, to a global superstar and cultural phenomenon.
As with any sporting star, with the adulation and attention comes potential pitfalls and, invariably, a new lexicon. So it was not surprising to hear the 25-year-old speak of “his brand” when he was unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region on Wednesday. Stars becoming brands is almost cliche now and one that Salah has clearly taken on board — he now has even his own logo.
“We are proud of him. Over the past two years, no has done what he has done. He has proved himself as one of the best and we wanted to deal with no one else, just him,” CEO of DHL in the Middle East and North Africa, Nour Suliman, said. “He is competing on another level and is the star of the Arab world. No one in the Arab world has done what he is doing. We are very proud to have him.”
Those types of corporate events, where a big multinational signs a deal with the latest big, young thing, lend themselves to the odd dollop of hyperbole. But there is little doubting the impact Salah has had on the pitch for Liverpool and Egypt, and off it in becoming a true Arab icon. And his utterance of the word “brand” is where Salah as a walking cliche begins and ends.
Every year in Egypt ahead of Ramadan the best dates are named after the most popular person in the country — the man or woman revered by the nation at that moment. In the past, the staple food of the holy month has tended to be named after political leaders.
This year there was no competition: The most succulent date has been named after Salah. At the DHL press conference he was presented with a packet of dates emblazoned with his face and name.
It said much about the man that he both looked and confessed to being “embarrassed.”
This week the British Museum in London displayed Salah’s green football boots as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition. And in a documentary about the player broadcast in the UK, he was credited with increasing attendances at England’s oldest mosque in Liverpool and improving the image of Islam by Dr. Abdul Hamid, a trustee at the mosque.
So while the signing of big deals hints he is very much the modern-day footballing superstar, everything else off the pitch suggests something else.
Salah is on social media, but does not, like many sports stars, live on it; he knows he is a hero for many, but pays more than mere lip service to his position as a role model; and he embraces attention (of both opposition defenders and fans) rather than seemingly getting annoyed by it if things are not going his way.
“I am not heavy into social media, I am on it and aware of it, but I don’t follow it that closely. It does not influence me,” he said.
“I am aware young people look up to me and I feel great that they do and that I can influence a young footballer to play better or train harder, or do better; that that makes me proud.”
This season Salah has done what few footballers have done before, transcend the game, and he has done so in a way characterized by benevolence rather than bluster.
Against Real Madrid he can again illustrate just what a talent he is — and if he does lead Liverpool to their sixth European Cup triumph, you get the feeling he will not let the adulation go to his head.