Unified heavyweight world titleholder Andy Ruiz Jr. and former titlist Anthony Joshua were not in attendance, but there will be plenty of time for them to discuss their Dec. 7 rematch in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
Instead, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn and Omar Khalil — the managing partner of Skill Challenge Entertainment, the company that spearheaded the Saudi Arabian effort to land the fight — were on hand at a news conference in London on Monday to discuss the unusual site for one of the year’s most significant fights.
“There was a lot of talk about where this fight would be held,” Hearn said. “Would it be back at Madison Square Garden? Would it be at [Principality] Stadium in Cardiff [Wales]? We had approaches from Saudi Arabia, from Dubai, from Qatar, from Abu Dhabi. And there’s been numerous conversations in the past about staging events in that region [of the Middle East].
“For us, we really wanted to go somewhere where they believed in the sport of boxing and they had a vision. I was lucky enough to attend the World Boxing Super Series, where the [super middleweight final] was held in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia [in September 2018]. It was a fantastic event, not just for the logistical setup but because of the vibrancy of the crowd, the interest in the sport of boxing.”
Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), 29, of Imperial, California, the first fighter of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight world title, and Joshua are due to meet in a much-anticipated rematch. Ruiz’s seventh-round knockout was a monumental upset, as he stook Joshua’s three major world title belts on June 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
After Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs), 29, who suffered four knockdowns, quickly exercised his right to an immediate rematch, Hearn said the fight would take place either back at Madison Square Garden or at the stadium in Cardiff, where England’s Joshua has drawn sellout crowds of around 80,000.
But then Hearn said the offers from elsewhere began to roll in, which delayed the selection of the site for the rematch.
Although Hearn and Khalil did not discuss the particulars of their deal, it has been widely reported in the British media — and not disputed by Hearn — that the Saudi Arabian site fee is nearly $100 million for the fight, a figure that the sites in New York or Cardiff could not come close to matching.
“We already knew they were for real,” Hearn said of the Saudis. “We already knew they were investing in the sport of boxing and that was something very important to us. We have to realize there is another world out there outside of Cardiff and Madison Square Garden and we have an obligation to grow the sport of boxing to new areas, to new regions and, for me, this event could change boxing forever because if Saudi Arabia are going to invest in these kinds of fights, with the population they have, the potential to grow the sport of boxing, you could be seeing a big change in the dynamics of the sport and that’s that really truly excites me.
“So for us, when we realized Saudi Arabia was serious about the sport of boxing, we then looked into the logistical side and, quite frankly, that blew our mind as well.”
Hearn downplayed reports that the fight was not officially signed yet and that Ruiz was not necessarily on board.
“Both fighters have signed for this rematch fight, all the governing bodies have been told and confirmed, by both sides, the dates and the venue for this event,” Hearn said.
Hearn added that Ruiz and Joshua would be part of a three-city international media tour to promote the bout, with the first news conference taking place in Saudi Arabia in the first week of September followed by stops in London and New York.
Hearn and Khalil said the fight will take place in a 12,000- to 16,000-seat open-air stadium that will be constructed just to host the bout in a city on the outskirts of the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh.
“I guarantee you with curiosity the whole world will be watching this fight on Dec. 7 and I know Saudi Arabia will be doing everything they can to make sure this is an event that will take your breath away,” Hearn said.
Hearn and Khalil noted that other major sports events have recently been held in Saudi Arabia, including the European Golf Tour and the Italian Super Cup in soccer. WWE also staged a major show in Saudi Arabia.
However, there have also been concerns raised about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and its treatment of women. In the aftermath of the murder of Saudi Arabian citizen and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October, for which Saudi Arabia was implicated, Endeavor, the parent company of UFC, severed ties to Saudi Arabia and returned a $400 million investment.
Hearn and Khalil did not address those issues, but Khalil stressed the growing sports, art, culture and entertainment scenes in Saudi Arabia, the availability of flights into Riyadh and the good weather there in December.
“We’re a demography of 40 million people — 70% are below 24 years old — so the appetite for such events is huge and this event is only a continuation to the plan that Saudi Arabia is working on to enhance that population’s quality of life and overall well being,” Khalil said.