Controversy Shrouds Ruiz Jr.-Joshua Bout Due To Saudi Arabia Setting
Saturday's Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua heavyweight boxing rematch in Saudi Arabia is "one of the most controversial sporting contests in recent times," according to Dan Roan of the BBC. A host of countries have "long been accused of hosting sport to help furnish their image abroad, normalise regimes, and divert attention from questionable human rights records." Recent Formula E, golf, WWE events and Italian Super Cup soccer have been "staged in Saudi Arabia as it pumps" big money into sports. Some will "see Joshua as naive when he says he would 'definitely be bothered' if he was being used to help improve the image" of Saudi Arabia. But others say it is "unfair to expect boxing to turn down Saudi Arabia's staggering riches" (BBC.com, 12/6). Joshua's promoter, Matchroom Boxing's Eddie Hearn, said, "We'll get quizzed on sportswashing and human rights, etc., etc. For me, I have to deal with providing for my clients. And generally, in this sport, that means creating the biggest pot of money." The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joshua Robinson writes boxing has "never been shy about chasing that money, regardless of who was signing the checks." Hearn noted that two of the sport's "most famous fights, the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle, were hosted by kleptocratic regimes in the Philippines and Zaire." But since "arriving in the Gulf, Joshua and Ruiz have both danced away from discussing anything outside the ring" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/6).
LOTS OF UNKNOWNS: In L.A., Manouk Akopyan writes whether combat sports will "gain a footing in Saudi Arabia remains to be seen." Endeavor, UFC's parent company, "severed ties in Saudi Arabia" after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in '18, exiting a $400M deal. But other "big players," such as Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, "still want to get a piece of the action." De La Hoya, who promotes Canelo Alvarez, said that he "would welcome an offer from the Saudis." De La Hoya: "It's an unknown and an untapped market. Fine, if you have a guarantee, maybe a promoter doesn't care about ticket sales. ... You have to look at the commissions and the safety of the fighters. It's most important. Are they prepared for any kind of situations?" (L.A. TIMES, 12/6).
PLENTY AT STAKE: ESPN.com's Steve Kim wrote the "power in the heavyweight division is also at stake Saturday." If Ruiz (fighting under PBC, broadcast primarily on Fox) "should come out victorious" over Joshua (Matchroom, broadcast on DAZN) again, it "would mean that all four of the major belts in the heavyweight division would be under the PBC umbrella." That "would give PBC control of almost all of the biggest potential fights in boxing's most glamorous division for the foreseeable future," provided Deontay Wilder "overcomes lineal champion Tyson Fury in their rematch on Feb. 22." For Fox, an "asset like having all the heavyweight world titles is vital for driving" PPV interest. Meanwhile, Joshua "enters a unique must-win situation of his own." He does "significant pay-per-view buys, and while one upset loss to Ruiz could be considered a blip, a second defeat irreparably damages his reputation as an elite fighter." Beyond that, his "marketability for Matchroom Sports would take a permanent hit" (ESPN.com, 12/3).