Ruiz-Joshua Promoter Not Worried About Saudi Arabia Criticism
Holding the Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua rematch in Saudi Arabia "has drawn some criticism, as you might imagine," due to the country's human rights record, but Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn "defended the decision" to put the Dec. 7 fight in a temporary stadium in Diriyah, according to CNBC's Willem Marx. Hearn, who promotes Joshua, noted the decision was one that his group "didn't take lightly." Hearn: "We knew it would come with criticism." The WWE and European PGA Tour have been condemned for holding events in Saudi Arabia following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last fall, but Hearn said it would have been "naive if we didn't look at this territory." He noted every promoter in the sport has been "trying to land a mega-fight, not just in Saudi, but in the Middle East." Hearn: "The most amazing venue (is) being purposely built for this event. This is going to be an iconic moment for the sport and a major change for the sport, which has notoriously seen mega-fights in Britain, in the USA. Now that changes with the Middle East" ("Street Signs," CNBC, 8/13). Hearn said, "We had approaches from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. ... A lot of territories contacted us about one-off events, which would be the first time they have hosted boxing and they just wanted to do a massive event." However, he added, "When we realized Saudi Arabia was serious about boxing we looked into the logistical side and that blew our mind as well" (ARAB NEWS, 8/13).
MIGRATION TO THE MIDDLE EAST? In London, Rick Broadbent reports should Joshua win the rematch and the event is a "success, no amount of controversy will prevent boxing returning for more." Hearn admitted that it could be a while "before Joshua fights in the UK again" if he defeats Ruiz. Hearn: "If AJ wins this fight in Saudi Arabia it opens up a whole new world for him and for boxing. Will he be back in the UK? Yes I expect it but I also expect him to box, not just in Saudi but in Nigeria, in China. That’s an iconic global fighter, not just someone who boxes in Cardiff and Madison Square Garden” (LONDON TIMES, 8/13).
ALREADY LOOKING AT WHAT'S NEXT: ESPN.com's Dan Rafael reports the IBF has agreed to grant Ruiz an "exception to bypass mandatory challenger" Kubrat Pulev in order to Joshua in their rematch. However, stipulations with that include the Ruiz-Joshua II winner "must agree in writing to fight Pulev on or before May 31, 2020" (ESPN.com, 8/13).