JEDDAH: In this week of firsts for Saudi Arabia, the country’s inaugural professional boxing weigh-in was a surprisingly low-key affair. Traditionally antagonistic occasions, the face-off in Jeddah between headliners George Groves and Callum Smith was firework-free.
Bravado is engrained in the build-up to boxing events and that confidence can often crescendo at the weigh-in. But the atmosphere in Jeddah was more frosty than feverish.
Whether “Rowdy in Saudi” — as the organizers have labelled it — or the “Duel in the Desert,” King Abdullah Sports City hosts a watershed moment for Saudi Arabian sport today.
While the WWE provided entertainment aplenty earlier this year, the World Boxing Super Series Final offers the prospect of a genuine world-class sporting spectacle. Both Groves and Smith have vowed to put on a show worthy of the occasion.
“I’m ready to fight,” Groves said at the weigh-in.
“It’s the most prestigious fight I’ve ever been involved in, an absolute must-win for me. My experience counts for a lot — I don’t really require it as I think I’m a better fighter than Smith, but yes, my experience is also an advantage.”
In the main event of Fight Night, Groves and Smith are battling for a host of titles, including the World Boxing Super Series’ own Muhammad Ali Trophy, the WBA Super Championship, the WBC Diamond Championship and the Ring Magazine belt.
As the reigning WBA Super champion, Groves is considered the favorite by many. But Smith is defending an unbeaten record and struck a more adversarial tone.
“I’m in very good condition, I feel good I feel strong and I’m ready to fight and ready to become world champion,” Smith said.
“He’s a good fighter and I’ve got a lot of respect for him but he looks like an old man who has had a very hard career. He’s had a very good career but there’s a lot of miles there.
“I just think I’m the younger, fresher, better man, and I’m here to take his title.”
On the undercard there is plenty of regional interest, including two Saudi fighters in London-based Zuhayr Al-Qahtani and Jeddah’s Abdulfatah Julaidan, who fought in his first professional fight just 12 days ago.
At the age of 39, Julaidan’s rise to fighting on a world championship undercard is nothing short of remarkable. The softly spoken Saudi Arabian insists he could never have passed up the opportunity to fight in his hometown.
“This is like a dream come true,” Julaidan told Arab News.
“I never could have imagined fighting in my own country, in my hometown, at a venue like this. I will put it all on the line for my family and for Saudi Arabia. This is the biggest fight of my life.”
Both Julaidan and Al-Qahtani were embracing the newfound spotlight in Jeddah, with local media swarming the pair. Sporting a Che Guevara-style beret, Al-Qahtani in particular looked at home in front of the cameras.
“This is a military hat because we are going to war. I’m ready for action,” Al-Qahtani told Arab News.
“I’m ready to make history — get on with the show. You can see I’ve got the crowd here. It’s about putting on a show and when the Arabian Warrior’s performing you know you will get that.
“The excitement for fighting in Jeddah is like nothing else — it’s like expecting a child. It’s amazing. It’s a real help having the crowd behind me. I want to win for the people.
“Manny Pacquiao had the Philippines, Ricky Hatton had England, I’m going to have Saudi Arabia behind me and I cannot wait to get in the ring.”
That sentiment was echoed by legendary world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, who was watching on at the weigh-in. The American expressed his hope that the Jeddah event will be a launching pad for boxing in the Kingdom.
“It’s tremendous to have boxing here in Saudi Arabia,” Holyfield told Arab News. “I think it will help the sport grow — I am sure there are some good fighters here and if they are given a chance they can change the whole game.”
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