Premium Editor's letter Issue

Return to Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia
Action Images/Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Saudi Arabia is far from an ideal location but unifying the division has to be priority, writes Matt Christie

EDDIE HEARN this week indicated that should the February 22 rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder produce a definitive winner, and Anthony Joshua gets past Kubrat Pulev in May or June, a huge offer will be made to stage a gargantuan Joshua-Fury/Wilder winter showdown. Which is of course wonderful news if you ignore the following: We’ve heard this all before; Hearn is not in the Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder business; Fury and Wilder have reportedly already agreed a third bout; Joshua and Pulev are yet to agree terms; and, the piece of the jigsaw that drew the most criticism, it will be hosted by Saudi Arabia.

It would appear, like it or not, that the Middle East will remain a key player in the boxing market for the foreseeable future purely because it can generate cash for the fighters, their teams and the broadcasters, that other nations cannot compete with. Yet doesn’t it seem like a crying shame, particularly if Joshua and Fury are the two men left standing after the next round of fights, and are in agreement to do battle, that Britain will not be in the running to stage what would be the biggest fight in its history? 

In boxing terms, it would be bigger than the World Cup final. It would dominate the news and the world’s attention. In the region of 100,000 fans would attend. The atmosphere in and around the stadium would be electric. Pay-per-view numbers would be off the scale. It would, surely, have great benefit to the sport and the economy in this country. Instead, the event would be staged to showcase what a wonderful place Saudi Arabia is, when the truth is it’s not.

Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia
Anthony Joshua won his titles back in Saudi Arabia Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

Even if you turn a blind eye to the potential consequences of such ludicrous and unsustainable prize funds, even if you ignore the country’s appalling human rights record (which admittedly had no bearing on the boxing) it’s simply not an appealing place for travelling fans to visit in the same way that Las Vegas, New York and London are. It’s true that the recent Joshua-Ruiz II event in Saudi Arabia can be deemed a financial success, but Riyadh – a sober city in every sense of the word – wasn’t exactly bouncing with euphoria in the build-up. It was a muted affair, real fight fans were largely absent and press conferences were staged in a temporary wooden structure in the middle of nowhere (think The Shining’s Overlook Hotel crossed with a garden shed). The makeshift nature of the stadium itself was exposed by the torrential rain on fight night to the extent the whole thing was in danger of being cancelled just hours before.

However, while it is indeed tempting to grumble about staging another scrap over there, there are far more important things at play here. Are we really going to moan if this fight is made?

It’s true that the Joshua-Ruiz II fight week was missing the glorious razzmatazz that an event of that size nearly always generates but the real reason that bout won’t live long in the memory is because of the fight itself. Had it delivered the thrills of the original, had there been a highlight reel knockout, then the whole production would have been hailed a triumph. Ultimately, fights are judged by the action and if the contest had delivered, it’s undoubted that the curious build-up and wet and windy conditions would have added to the charm.

Nobody should criticise any boxer for wanting to earn as much as possible, either. Why shouldn’t they secure the futures of their families before their short careers are over? I’m certain almost anyone would do the same in their position. One only has to look at the fate that befell Kobe Bryant at the weekend as inspiration to get the most out of every minute that we’re here. 

So if all the obstacles mentioned can be cleared and we’re left with the heavyweight showdown we have wanted for what seems like an eternity, the location of the bout – wherever it may be – is not nearly as important as the fight itself. 

Boxing goes where the money is (which hasn’t been the UK for a while) and doesn’t ask questions. That’s always been the nature of the business. 

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