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Saudi Arabia adds Ruiz v Joshua rematch to major events portfolio

Saudi Arabia fought off competition from several other nations to host the heavily-anticipated boxing rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua and will stage the event at a new open-air stadium seating at least 12,000 fans, it was revealed today (Monday).

Matchroom Boxing, Joshua’s promoter, announced on Friday that Ruiz Jr. would defend his world heavyweight titles against the Brit in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia on December 7. Details of the event, following on from the American’s shock victory over Joshua at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 1, had been thin on the ground, but further information was provided today at a press conference in London.

Ruiz and his team have remained silent over Matchroom’s announcement, but the agency’s managing director, Eddie Hearn, today maintained the fight is on. Friday’s announcement provoked controversy due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, with Amnesty International having called on Joshua to speak out on the issue stating the award of the event presents the nation with another opportunity to “’sportswash’ their severely tarnished image”.

Nevertheless, Hearn said promoters were sold on local organisers’ vision for the event, which had previously been linked to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium or a return to Madison Square Garden. “There was a lot of talk of where this fight would be held,” Hearn said, according to the British Boxing News website.

“We had approaches from Saudi Arabia, from Dubai, from Qatar, from Abu Dhabi. There’s been numerous conversations in the past about staging boxing events in that region. For us, we really wanted to go somewhere which believed in the sport of boxing, that had a vision.

“I was lucky enough to attend the World Boxing Super Series where the final was in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, it was a fantastic event, not just for the logistical setup but for the vibrancy of the crowd, the interest in the sport of boxing.

“Of course, recently they staged another boxing fight with Amir Khan. We already knew that Saudi Arabia were for real, we already knew they were investing in the sport of boxing and that was very important for us.

“We have to realise that there is a 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 kind of fights, with the population they have and the potential to grow the sport of boxing, you could be seeing a big change in the dynamics of the sport and that’s something that really excites me.”

Hearn also disclosed plans for the venue for the fight. “When we knew Saudi Arabia were serious about the sport of boxing, we then looked into the logistical side and, quite frankly, that blew our minds as well,” he added.

“We just finished a meeting talking about the design of the new open air stadium for this fight, already talking about 12,000 but probably, judging by the response, might need 15 or 16,000. Look at the events that have been there before us – Formula E, of course; golf’s European Tour; football’s Italian Super Cup; World Boxing Super Series; the WWE – everyone has enjoyed these events from a fan perspective and a logistical experience as well.”

Today’s announcement marks another step on a long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to become a major player in the sports events industry. Last week it was announced that the Saudi Cup will become the richest horse race in history when its inaugural edition takes place in the capital of Riyadh next February.

The total prize purse has been confirmed at $20m (€18m), with half of that going to the winning horse and the remainder of the top 10 finishers sharing another $10m between them. In April, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) confirmed that motorsport showpiece the Dakar Rally will be held in Saudi Arabia from 2020.

The agreements are part of Vision 2030, an initiative that seeks to diversify Saudi Arabia’s interests away from the oil sector. The BBC reports that the Saudi backers have put forward a reported $40m site fee for the Ruiz-Joshua rematch, with this figure not including the pay-per-view revenue that will be generated by the fight.

Omar Khalil, managing partner of Skill Challenge Entertainment, the Saudi agency behind the event, rejected criticism over the event heading to the country. He stated: “We are a demography of 40 million people, 70 per cent are below 24-years-old, so the appetite for such events is huge. 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 also disclosed that a plan is in place to encourage overseas visitors to attend the fight. He added: “Upon purchasing a ticket online you’ll be, by default, issued a visa that gives you validity of 30 days to the Kingdom after the event, so visitors are welcome to roam the country to do their sightseeing.”