RIYADH: Muhammad Ali, one of the most significant and celebrated sporting figures of all time, would have been “so proud” to see the world heavyweight boxing title fight “The Clash on the Dunes” taking place in Saudi Arabia.
That is the belief of Rasheda Ali-Walsh, daughter of the legendary three-time heavyweight world champion known as “The Greatest” who was a frequent visitor to the Kingdom, including his pilgrimage to Makkah in 1972 after embracing Islam and becoming Muslim.
In September last year Ali-Walsh herself traveled to Jeddah to present the Muhammad Ali Trophy to Callum Smith after he defeated George Groves in the World Boxing Super Series super-middleweight final, the first major boxing match to be staged in the Kingdom by the General Sports Authority (GSA).
Ahead of Dec. 7’s showdown between World Champion Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua in the Diriyah Arena in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Ali-Walsh said: “Having the opportunity to present the winner of the World Boxing Super Series with my dad’s (Muhammad Ali Trophy), the greatest prize to earn, was not only an honor for the champion to achieve but also would have been a true honor and experience for my father as well.
“As an undisputed global icon and hero, my father has immensely contributed to the sport of boxing — changing the face of the sport, transforming it into a globally watched competition. Because of his worldwide significance, Saudi Arabia is a befitting location to host the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ this year.
“He would be so proud that his legacy of making the sport truly universal has taken this heavyweight championship of the world to Saudi Arabia. It could be called the Boxing Ultimatum in the Saudi Kingdom.
“When Dad visited Saudi Arabia 48 years ago, he was embraced with a spectacular welcome. He singlehandedly inspired the people there to spark an interest in boxing not only due to his ability in the ring but also his bringing values of Islam to the world.”
On Dec. 7, Anthony Joshua will look to regain his WBO, WBA, IBF and IBO belts after suffering defeat in New York earlier this year in front of some 15,000 fans, with thousands coming from the UK and hundreds more from the US as part of a global contingent from 65 countries traveling to Saudi Arabia for the fight.
Fans will be treated to a world class undercard of fighters as well as witness history in the making as Joshua battles Ruiz Jr.
Russian powerhouse Alexander Povetkin will face US heavyweight Michael Hunter in an eliminator for the WBA World Title, before Croatian star Filip Hrgovic puts his WBC International Championship on the line when he takes on US boxer Eric Molina.
Organizers believe the epic dual, the first-ever world heavyweight title fight in the Middle East, will have an incredible impact on the Saudi crowd and electrify the sport’s following in the Kingdom.
Due to its location away from the traditional boxing heartlands of the UK or the US, “The Clash on the Dunes” has already drawn comparisons with iconic bouts of Ali’s when he too traveled to fight in front of new fans.
Ali-Walsh said: “His strong convictions during the time of harsh and dangerous racism has made him the most respected athlete to date.
“My father also took his fights to Zaire in Africa for the “Rumble in the Jungle” and to Asia for the “Thrilla in Manilla” where he inspired all those who had the honor of witnessing history in the making.
“During his trip to Saudi Arabia, he also made his much-anticipated holy trip to Makkah to participate in Hajj and Umrah.”
The fight forms part of the Diriyah Season, an epic month of sports which also features Formula E, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Diriyah Equestrian Festival, an elite competition with Tokyo Olympics 2020 qualifying points on the line.
Known as the home of kings and heroes and the birthplace of modern Saudi Arabia, Diriyah will also stage performances from some of the biggest music artists on the planet at the Diriyah Music Festival.