JEDDAH: British boxer Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk from Ukraine will face off against each other in the ring again on Aug. 20 in Jeddah. The rematch, dubbed “Rage on the Red Sea,” was formally announced on Tuesday during a press conference in the Saudi coastal city.
Usyk came out on top by a unanimous decision in the pair’s previous bout at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London last September.
Abdullah Al-Harbi, president of the Saudi Boxing Federation, told Arab News that the rematch will focus more international attention on the Kingdom and boost its efforts to establish itself as a major hub for global sports and entertainment events.
There have been a number of developments in the Kingdom’s boxing scene, he said, since the last major event was held in the country, the “Clash on the Dunes” between Joshua and American fighter Andy Ruiz Jr. in Diriyah in December 2019.
That high-profile event inspired hundreds of people in Saudi Arabia to take up the sport, Al-Harbi revealed, with the result that the number of boxers registered with the federation increased by 300 percent from 300 to 1,200, while the number of boxing clubs also increased significantly.
“They were only four clubs and today we have 32,” he said, adding that “we look forward to the event (in August), which will increase those numbers and increase participation in boxing” in the Kingdom.
Al-Harbi said it is important to encourage more young Saudis become involved in boxing, and sports in general, in line with the objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030 development and diversification plan, one of the aims of which is to empower the nation’s youth in a variety of fields.
“We know that youths make up 60 percent of the Kingdom’s population,” he said. “One of the key areas for them (to get involved with) is sports, and so having multiple sports options for them to choose from is key for the Kingdom in its efforts to diversify and encourage young people increase their participation in sports,” said Al-Harbi. Major events such as the Rage on the Red Sea help to achieve this, he added.
In addition, such events are “promoting the Kingdom worldwide (and) showcasing our infrastructure in sports and showcasing our hospitality” to an international audience as the country seeks to develop and expand its tourism sector, he said.
Prince Fahad bin Abdulaziz, the head of Skill Challenge Entertainment, one of the organizers of the upcoming fight, told Arab News that he expects it to have a big influence the future of boxing in the Kingdom.
“The first boxing match we did here, in 2019 during Diriyah Season, was amazing,” he said. “The numbers were amazing for men and women who got involved in boxing after that.
“I think this match is going to have a bigger impact on all the men and women here in Saudi Arabia.”
Rasha Al-Khamis, vice-president of the Saudi Boxing Federation, agreed that the event will inspire many women in the Kingdom to take up boxing.
“During the Clash on the Dunes we saw a huge increase in the number of people participating and boxing has become a much more popular sport (now), whereas back then it wasn’t as popular,” she told Arab News.
“It has attracted females and males and I think society has become more interested in boxing.”
Al-Khamis also highlighted the 300 percent overall increase in the number of registered boxers in the Kingdom following the Clash on the Dunes, and said that it included “a 100 percent increase in female fighters.”
“These types of events definitely will pave the way for future athletes,” she added.