Boxing legend Ali would have been ‘so proud’ to see heavyweight title fight in Saudi Arabia, says daughter

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Muhammad Ali and daughter Rasheda Ali-Walsh. (Supplied)
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Muhammad Ali during a visit to Alkhobar. (ksaoldphoto)
Updated 20 November 2019

Boxing legend Ali would have been ‘so proud’ to see heavyweight title fight in Saudi Arabia, says daughter

  • Rasheda Ali-Walsh: 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
  • Rasheda Ali-Walsh: My father also took his fights to Zaire in Africa for the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ and to Asia for the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’

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.

Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

Updated 06 December 2019

Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

  • “I really started studying boxing again”: Joshua

RIYADH: Former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has admitted that he has been hitting the books just as hard as the gym in his six-month buildup to this weekend’s epic Clash On The Dunes bout in Riyadh.

The 30-year-old revealed that, as well as sparring with up to five fighters in a row, he committed to learning as much as he could about the “science of boxing” in his preparations for the rematch following his June defeat to Mexican-American fighter Andy Ruiz.

The pair meet again on Saturday in the jewel in the crown of Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Season — with tickets selling fast in the face of phenomenal demand.

To Joshua, the fight is his chance of redemption following Ruiz’s shock win in New York’s Madison Square Garden, so he has left no stone unturned in his quest to produce the perfect performance under the lights and with the eyes of the world watching.

“After that fight, I knew my mistakes,” he told Arab News. “That’s why I said: ‘You were the better man that day. I give you it. First-ever Mexican champion. Hats off to you.’”

He continued: “I wasn’t low because I know I’m better than that and that I’ve got a lot more I needed to give. I just knew that me and Andy are different in every aspect — the only thing we have in common is time. So I made sure I used my time wisely because I knew I was going to get it right. I knew what I needed to work on. It was more strategic planning.

“Ever since I walked into boxing I’ve been dominating. From the amateurs — bosh, championship. Turned pro — bosh, championship. You never really understand what (you have) until it’s taken (from you).

“Then I had time to think and that’s when I really started studying boxing again. There is no doubt I can fight. I’ve been fighting top-level fighters. I’ve never really had an introduction level. I’ve just been straight on. I’ve now had the time to reflect, get my head right, get my head back in the game, and boost myself again and do what I did 10 years ago: take over this division.”

When asked what his studying entailed, Joshua — who won a gold medal in the heavyweight category at the 2012 London Olympics — explained: “Loads of videos. Sometimes you can put fighters side-by-side — both 6 feet 6 inches, both weighing roughly the same amount — but you can see one is more disciplined with technique than the other, you can then see why they became more successful in their field and you learn about the discipline of following through your tactics. Stuff like that.

“You learn about when you move to the left against an orthodox fighter: Is that a dangerous move or is that a smart move to control a fighter? What does it mean to move to the right? What’s the first art of defensive boxing? It’s your feet — get out the way. You start to indulge yourself in the sweet science. Before I was more, ‘I’ve just come to fight.’ Now I’ve learned about the sweet science of the sport, which is important as well.”

In line with his learning, Joshua has ensured his 3,000-mile trip from London does not impact his training and fight preparation. In the lead-up to June’s defeat, he spent seven weeks away from home in Miami. On this occasion, he has arrived only two weeks prior — allowing him to maintain a “training camp vibe” to his buildup.

He believes he is now in the perfect place ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster bout, admitting he actually finds the actual fight the least nerve-wracking part of the whole experience.

“I just kept a training routine and focused on business: Keep my focus and get the job done,” he said. “I’m not nervous at all. I’m confident. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous for a fight. I’ve probably been more nervous sparring. I trap myself in a dungeon, so I feel like I’m an experiment in a lab. I then come and present my efforts to you.

“That’s why I feel I’ve got so much pressure on myself, because behind closed doors I work so hard mentally and physically to try and stay at the top. I spar, like, five guys in a row who come to take my head off, and I’ve got to be sharp in every second of that round, which will ultimately (affect) what I do on fight night. Training is the hardest part, I think. That’s why I’m never nervous about a fight, because I put so much work in in the gym.”

Ruiz’s win over Joshua in June sent reverberations across all divisions of the sport, with many considering it one of boxing’s biggest ever upsets. So, could lightning strike twice?

“I think it’s kind of like an exam, isn’t it?” said Joshua. “You go through it once, you fail. Most people fail their first driving test, then they go again and prepare better, so I think I’m better prepared if I’m honest with you. You will definitely see the energy in the fight a bit different this time.”

Asked what the outcome would be if he were to suffer a second defeat to Ruiz in seven months, Joshua said: “Definitely catastrophic. But I’m not even thinking about losing. It’ll be big business when I win. I just got to keep focusing on the win.”

He added, “Everyone fails their first driving test. I think I got mine the second time.”