Promoter Eddie Hearn has moved to defend the decision to stage the heavyweight title rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia, suggesting that hosting the event in the region could “change boxing forever.”
Hearn was speaking at a London press conference to formally announce the location of the eagerly-anticipated rematch of the fight that saw Ruiz stun the boxing world by stopping Joshua in the seventh round at Madison Square Garden on June 1 to capture the IBF, WBA and WBO world titles.
Now the pair are set to face off in a contractually-agreed rematch in Saudi Arabia on December 7 in Ad Diriyha, and Hearn was at pains to stress the positives of holding the bout in the region, which has been criticized by the international community for its human rights record.
“We had approaches from Saudi Arabia, from Dubai, from Qatar, from Abu Dhabi,” said Hearn.
“And there’s been numerous conversations in the past about staging events in that region.”
There was strong interest in the fight being held back at The Garden, or in Cardiff, Wales, at the 74,500-seat Principality Stadium, but Hearn said the staging of the fight in Saudi Arabia could have a much bigger positive effect on the sport overall.
“We have to realize that 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 and regions,” he said.
“This event could change boxing forever. If Saudi Arabia are going to invest in these kinds of fights, with the population that they have and the potential to grow the sport, you could be seeing a big change in the dynamics of the sport.”
One positive that wasn’t mentioned by Hearn was the huge site fee being paid by the Saudi authorities to host the event, with the BBC reporting a figure of $40 million.
The decision to hold the fight in Saudi Arabia has come under criticism from Amnesty International UK, with the charity’s head of campaigns Felix Jakens telling the Reuters news agency that the event was “likely to be yet another opportunity for the Saudi authorities to try to ‘sportswash’ their severely tarnished image.
“As with other sporting stars going to Saudi Arabia, we’d call on Joshua to inform himself of the human rights situation and be prepared to speak out,” he said.
Hearn justified the decision by listing a plethora of high-profile sporting events that had been held in Saudi Arabia over the last couple of years, including WWE wrestling, the Italian Super Cup, golf’s European Tour and the Formula E motor racing series.
“This is such a huge occasion for boxing, an iconic moment,” said Hearn.
“With the response that we’ve seen, mainly good and some negative, I guarantee you with curiosity the whole world will be watching this fight.”