Andy Ruiz Jr knocks down Anthony Joshua in the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO Heavyweight World Championships title fight at Madison Square Garden, New York.
Nick Potts – PA Images | PA Images | Getty Images
The decision to hold the world heavyweight rematch between U.K. boxer Anthony Joshua and current world champion, Andy Ruiz, in Saudi Arabia has been defended by the fight’s promoter.
Managing director of Matchroom Boxing, Eddie Hearn, told CNBC that hosting the fight in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia will “change boxing forever,” dismissing concerns over the country’s human rights record.
“This is a decision we didn’t take lightly, we knew it would come with criticism,” said Hearn at the official first press conference in London on Monday.
“A lot of it has been untrue in terms of the event. All men and women will be welcome to attend.”
Hearn and former champion Joshua are on something of a rebuilding mission since his disastrous U.S. fight debut at Madison Square Garden in June. On that noisy New York night, Ruiz shocked the boxing world by beating the previously undefeated Brit to take the WBA, IBF and WBO Heavyweight titles.
Negotiations as to where the compulsory rematch would take place have been protracted ever since, with Cardiff and Las Vegas previously stated as the preferred choice of Hearn, before the surprise Saudi Arabia announcement.
“He (Ruiz) got part of his wish to not do it in the U.K.,” continued Hearn. “There’s the most amazing venue being purpose-built for this event. This is going to be an iconic moment for the sport and a major change for the sport.”
The decision to take a fight of such magnitude to the Middle East has not been welcomed by human rights organizations, who have urged Joshua to question the motives of the Saudi authorities. Amnesty International has said it believes the country is responsible for “sportswashing” in an effort to deflect attention from allegations of an oppressive regime.
Shortly after the fight was announced, Amnesty International’s Felix Jakens said Joshua should “inform himself of the human rights situation and be prepared to speak out about Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record.”
Hearn was keen to point out that not only will anyone purchasing a ticket be automatically issued with a 30-day visa to use in the country, it’s also not the first major sporting event in the Arab state.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), golf’s European Tour and motorsport’s Formula E have all hosted major events in Saudi Arabia during the past year. In the case of WWE, none of its female roster of wrestlers were allowed to compete in the country and Hearn was vague over any possible restrictions affecting the event’s undercard for December 7.
“They are ongoing discussions. The fighter we would have there is (Unified Lightweight Champion) Katie Taylor. She’s due to fight in November though, so I’m not sure if that’s going to fit with her schedule,” said Hearn.
The promoter also confirmed this fight will be the most financially lucrative he’s ever put on and will provide each fighter with their biggest payday to date.
It’s been estimated it took as much as $100 million from local Saudi Arabian backers to take the fight to Diriyah, although Hearn claimed there were other offers from elsewhere in the Middle East which were worth more.