Anthony Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, admitted yesterday that the heavyweight boxer and his team had “expected criticism and controversy” over the choice of Saudi Arabia as the venue for the Briton’s rematch against Andy Ruiz Jnr.
Hearn dispelled any doubt yesterday at a news conference in London – minus its protagonists – that the contract for Joshua and Ruiz Jnr to meet again for three world title belts had been signed by both parties for the fight to take place on Dec 7 in Saudi Arabia.
A purpose-built stadium will be built for 15,000 fans on the outskirts of Riyadh. Joshua, who lost the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organisation belts to Ruiz in New York in June, will undertake a three-day press tour with the American early next month, taking in Riyadh, London and New York.
Hearn also confirmed yesterday that the options had been weighed up based on both opening up a new market and on the commercial value of the fight. Joshua is expected to earn well over £50 million, his biggest payday to date, in spite of being the challenger, with his purses from Saudi Arabia, Sky Box Office in the UK and DAZN, the fighter’s digital broadcast partners in the US.
Hearn said: “I knew that when we made the decision, not every response would be positive, that there would be criticism and controversy. We had to be very comfortable because we knew there would be criticism. But I’m a boxing promoter and sometimes the criticism and the curiosity will lead to an event of an extraordinary magnitude. I knew this announcement would be met with pluses and minuses.
“I don’t think AJ thinks it’s a risk to his reputation. I’m a sports promoter. If you look at the bigger picture and this is a chance not just for boxing but for AJ. You can talk about events in the past – whether it’s Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila – and I put this in the same kind of league. Joshua has always had the mindset that he wanted to box all over the world. Will he be back in the UK? Yes, but I also expect him to box not just in Saudi but in Nigeria, in China. Iconic, global fights.”
Hearn confirmed the Ruiz-Joshua 2 contract was solid. “They have 100 per cent signed the contract for this fight. This is boxing. Of course, when Andy Ruiz signed the contract for the first and second fights, it was a dream come true for him.
“He would have taken much less to be honest with you. Once he wins the first fight, every man and his dog from his local gym is telling him he should be getting this and that.”
Hearn added: “The deal was very fair, the deal was negotiated and everyone who signed that deal, whether it was Tom Brown, his promoter, whether it’s Ruiz himself, Al Haymon, his management company, they all know their obligations.”