It was officially announced today that Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz II will go down in Saudi Arabia on December 7th with the IBF, IBO, WBA (super) and WBO heavyweight titles on the line.
Joshua dropped the titles to Ruiz back in June at Madison Square Garden in what was supposed to be his grand American debut.
It had been believed that Cardiff was the frontrunner to host the rematch once Joshua and Eddie Hearn activated the rematch clause, but Saudi Arabia entered the race early last week and have now landed the fight.
It’s believed they’ve paid around £70 million to secure the fight. However, many boxing fans have criticised the decision to take the fight to a country that is many years behind the rest of the world in terms of human rights.
Speaking to Gareth A. Davies for talkSPORT’s Fight Night, Barry Hearn explained why the sport of boxing can actually help accelerate change.
“As far as the political and cultural side of Saudi [Arabia], yes, I was expecting some backlash on that because there are people out there, and quite rightly, defending the rights of individuals across the world across many different member states that abuse power or create criminal acts, whatever.
“I’m not justifying it at all, but what I’m seeing now is change – gradual change. 100 years ago in our country, we would have done things we weren’t proud of, but things change and sport can help things change. It’s the long haul, but the alternative is just to cut people off.
“I spent some time talking to Keith Penny of the PGA European Tour, he’s a very sensible young man, and because he took a European tour there and had similar sorts of things like ‘how can you do this in a country that does these sorts of things’ and such. Keith’s answer – and I think my answer – is look, his responsibility is to his members to spread the game as globally as possible. I take exactly the same view in all the sports I deal in. The overall consideration is the world of sport.
“Politics being politics, I’m sure there’s things all over the world that I could take offense with, but I just focus on spreading the gospel of sport and make sure my clients are well rewarded for their activities in their chosen sport.”
As Hearn rightly points out later on, sport is business and marrying everyone’s morals with money isn’t always as black and white as one might think.
“I just have to hold my hands up and say ‘sorry, there’s a bigger picture here’. Sport is business and the day you take your eye off sport being business is the day sport goes backwards. And we talked earlier about the cricket and the golf and the tennis where the investment is not being made, same thing applies with boxing. What we’ve done with boxing over the last five years and, in particular, hats off to my son. I don’t take any credit for it.
“We’ve inspired a whole generation of young people to be boxers and make the sacrifices they need to in order to be as good as they can possibly be – and they deserve the rewards. You can’t do that and just give them a medal or a cup or a belt – you’ve got to give them money so their life changes because of the risk they take and the level of dedication they put in.
“So the fan side? I can shrug my shoulders and say don’t worry, hopefully you’ll be back again in the future but we’re a global sport, and as such, we have a global audience to cater for.”
And you can hear the rest of Gareth’s exclusive interview with Barry Hearn this Saturday evening on Fight Night from 9pm on talkSPORT