ANTHONY JOSHUA’S world heavyweight title rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr will take place in Saudi Arabia on December 7, his promoters Matchroom have announced.
Joshua will be bidding to win back the IBF, WBA and WBO titles which Ruiz ripped from him in a stunning four-knockdown upset at Madison Square Garden in June.
The rematch will be the latest high-profile boxing event to be held in the country after Amir Khan’s victory over Australian Billy Dib in July.
The Kingdom also hosted the World Boxing Super Series super-middleweight final between British pair Callum Smith and George Groves last year.
Joshua’s bout with Ruiz Jr will take place in Diriyah, a town on the outskirts of the capital Riyadh, which incorporates the UNESCO World Heritage site of Al-Turaif.
Cardiff’s Principality Stadium was among the venues proposed for the rematch but Ruiz Jr had insisted the bout must take place either back in the United States or on neutral territory.
Joshua was left stunned by Ruiz Jr, who stepped in to fight him at five-and-a-half weeks’ notice after his initial opponent, Jarrell Miller, failed a drugs test.
After being knocked down four times he was stopped in the seventh round on his US debut, marking one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history.
Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn immediately activated their rematch clause and targeted a bout in the UK but Ruiz Jr responded: “That is not going to happen.”
Amnesty International criticised the choice of Saudi Arabia for the bout, citing human rights violations, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the ongoing war in Yemen.
Amnesty UK’s head of campaigns Felix Jakens said: “If Anthony Joshua fights Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia, it’s likely to be yet another opportunity for the Saudi authorities to try to ‘sportswash’ their severely tarnished image.
“Despite some long-overdue reforms on women’s rights, Saudi Arabia is currently in the grip of a sweeping human rights crackdown – with women’s rights activists, lawyers and members of the Shia minority community all being targeted.
“There’s been no justice over the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen is carrying out indiscriminate attacks on homes, hospitals and market-places with horrific consequences for Yemeni civilians.
“As with other sporting stars going to Saudi Arabia, we’d call on Joshua to inform himself of the human rights situation and be prepared to speak out about Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record.”