LONDON: The Andy Ruiz-Anthony Joshua world heavyweight championship bout being held at a custom-built venue in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, has the potential to “change boxing forever,” according to fight promoter Eddie Hearn.
Having lost his three world heavyweight IBF, WBA and WBO titles after a shock loss to Ruiz in June, Joshua is seeking to reclaim the belts in the Kingdom on Dec. 7.
Speaking at the Savoy Hotel in London to officially announce the Kingdom as the location for the eagerly anticipated rematch, Hearn called the fight the “biggest of the year” with the potential to match the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in 1974, and the “Thrilla in Manila” between Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975.
— Arab News (@arabnews) August 12, 2019
“There has been a lot of talk about where this fight would be held — we had approaches from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi,” Hearn said.
“For us, we really wanted to go somewhere that believed in the sport of boxing, who had a vision for the sport, and I was lucky enough to attend the World Super Series final in Jeddah. It was a fantastic event — not just the logistical set-up, but also the vibrancy of the crowd and the interest in the sport, so we already knew Saudi Arabia was keen to invest in the sport of boxing.
“We have an obligation to grow the sport in new areas and new regions, and for me, this event could change boxing forever,” he added.
Talking about the driving force behind the decision to choose Saudi Arabia as a location, Hearn admitted Ruiz wanted a neutral venue and would not fight in the UK, and said the attractive offer for the fighters from the Kingdom’s sporting authorities was a factor.
But he was full of praise of the potential for the Kingdom to be a top class boxing venue, using high-profile events to grow the sport at grassroots level.
“Anthony has always had the mindset of fighting all around the world, he’s been to this region before and he holidays not far away, and (was convinced) once he saw the vision, the stadium and the plans,” Hearn told Arab News.
“We are so naive if we think boxing is just Great Britain and America, and if Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region also decide to invest in boxing then the whole game is about to change.
“A lot of territories contacted us about one-off events, which would be the first time they have hosted boxing and they just wanted to do a massive event, it is different in Saudi Arabia.
“They have gyms in place, there is participation in the sport, they have staged other world championship events and, as a promoter, I want to be in there before everybody else.
“When we realized Saudi Arabia was serious about boxing we looked into the logistical side and that blew our mind as well,” he added.
Omar Khalil, the managing partner of Skill Challenge Entertainment — the group working with Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing company — confirmed that fans who bought tickets for the fight would receive automatic entry visas to the Kingdom for 30 days.