After what’s felt like forever since the first fight and nearly 10 weeks of negotiations, the highly anticipated rematch of Andy Ruiz Jr vs Anthony Joshua for the WBA Super, WBO and IBF world heavyweight titles has been finally announced for December 7th. Since the upset at Madison Square Garden which rocked the boxing world with Ruiz dethroning Joshua as unified champion, fans and fighters alike have been talking about the rematch. What they wouldn’t have predicted, however, is that it would be held in Diriyah, a town just North West of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. First of all, what? It’s come as a surprise to many with weeks of confusion surrounding where the rematch would be held, Cardiff seemed to be the front runner for a while or a trip back to the States but not many would’ve predicted Saudi Arabia. I would’ve guessed Antarctica before Saudi Arabia but maybe it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise with Amir Khan recently fighting in Jeddah and the World Boxing Super Series Super Middleweight tournament final being held there also. I try to keep my posts as unbiased as possible, even if this one might be a bit trickier, and I’ll take a look at some of the pros and cons as to whether a fight this big should be held in Saudi Arabia.
First up the pros, and whilst it may seem tricky to see some there are definitely a few. Saudi Arabia is a completely new market for boxing and could become a popular place for the sport in years to come. As previously mentioned, Callum Smith beat George Groves in Jeddah to win the Super Middleweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series in September 2018 and Amir Khan recently beat Billy Dib also in Jeddah for the WBC International Welterweight title (even if it was a bit of a strange show, I honestly didn’t know Samuel Peter was still fighting until he took on Hughie Fury on the undercard). Other sporting events have also been held in Saudi Arabia in recent years such as Formula-E (with Diriyah set to be the opening race of the 2019/20 season in November this year), WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble, Crown Jewel and Super Showdown shows and the Saudi International golf tournament. It’s no surprise that Saudi Arabia have the capability to hold big sporting events that locals and tourists will enjoy. All this is part of the Saudi Vision 2030 project where Saudi Arabia are trying to become less dependent on their oil as a mean to grow their economy and the entertainment sector has had over $2 billion invested in order to hold such events. For the points mentioned, the bout that’s being dubbed “Clash on the Dunes” could be fantastic for Saudi Arabia in terms of the future of boxing and sport (even though they’ve missed a golden opportunity by not calling it “Rowdy in Saudi” like I suggested on twitter, come on Matchroom you know it makes sense) and there’s no doubts it’ll be just as exciting as the first bout.
However there are obvious cons and some grey areas about holding a fight this big in Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest is that it’s a huge risk. Yes big fights have been held in Saudi Arabia before and there’s a potentially huge market there but is it worth the risk? A Ruiz–Joshua rematch could easily sell out any stadium or arena in the UK or the USA however with the rumours both parties wanted it on neutral ground it definitely would’ve sold out stadiums in a neutral European venue such as Italy, Germany or France, so why risk it in a place where the sports and entertainment industry is still developing? It could also make it more of a difficult sell for British fans to travel to support Joshua considering Saudi Arabia used to be an incredibly difficult country to travel to. British fans have a history of supporting British fighters abroad creating a fantastic atmosphere following the likes of Ricky Hatton, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua himself for the first Ruiz fight. It’s much easier now to get into Saudi Arabia with tourist visas available for the first time however they come at a price. Fans would probably have to get a “Sharek” visa (visa specific for sports and entertainment events) which costs around $170 which is pretty expensive compared to the $14 it costs for Brits to get an esta to enter the US. The closest major city to Diriyah is the capital, Riyadh, which is anything but a cheap date when it comes to nice hotels, restaurants and shops. Add in the ticket price (although apparently a visa will be included with it) and flights it’ll get expensive quite quickly. Considering Christmas will only be 18 days away from fight night it’s highly possible that fans won’t want to spend big so soon to the holidays and give the trip a miss. Also just this morning, Andy Ruiz Jr said on Instagram that apparently the fight isn’t taking place in Saudi Arabia but on his terms in the United States. Great. So we will probably have the Heavyweight Champion of the World fighting in a neutral location begrudgingly in his first defence of his titles, what fun. America would be a safe bet as Ruiz never really wanted to fight in the UK and it would be a brilliant second chance for AJ to re-introduce himself to the US market, however Saudi Arabia is where it’s happening.
Overall, this will change the boxing landscape forever. It’ll either establish Saudi Arabia as a serious competitor in the boxing world and could see many future huge fights over there or it’ll be a case of too much too soon. Politics and debates aside, this will be an incredible fight with everything on the line. The last one was exciting and full of drama and this one will be no different. Joshua and Ruiz will make huge statements by getting a win, however the winner won’t be able to get too carried away as a bout with WBO mandatory Oleksandr Usyk will be looming in the not too distant future.