Boxing News, Opinion

Anthony Joshua and the great Saudi sportswash

“Sometimes you’ve got to go down to come back up…Taking a loss might be the most lucrative thing to happen to AJ”. These are just some of the confusing narratives flying around at the moment. To be fair, Joshua and Co are busy putting on one hell of a PR job ahead of an expected rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr in December. If, indeed, Ruiz is even on board with the rematch. Was Monday’s high profile “announcement” a press conference or a pressure conference? Ruiz did not attend. Perhaps he’s being squeezed into making up his mind, less he scuppers a fight that hasn’t even been made.

Perhaps nobody should be going anywhere near Saudi Arabia despite what we’re being told. It’s nothing to do with reaching new markets. Bob Arum tried that in Macau when he attempted to woo the potentially lucrative Chinese market. It failed, Bob moved on, end of story. 

What Saudi Arabia offers is simple — a bucket load of cold, hard cash. The controversial Kingdom is busy diversifying its output as it moves away from oil and into the entertainment industry. Amnesty International UK’s Head of Campaigns, Felix Jakens, slammed the move as another attempt by the authorities to “sportswash their severely tarnished image.” Quite the turn of phrase. The Saudi money men have indeed upped their sporting game of late. Golf, Formula One and WWE have all enjoyed the Riyadh riches. The 2020 Saudi Cup race is set to become the most lucrative in horse racing history. 

It’s not only sporting industries being lured by the power of the cheque book. The Saudis invested $400million of their sovereign wealth fund into the purchase of a stake of Endevor, a prominent American West Coast talent agency. In 2018 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman busied himself on tour across Hollywood, hobnobbing with celebrities and producers of all description as he reinforced his ties to the entertainment industry. The controversial murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi (a Saudi himself, and increasingly outspoken critic of the regime who was killed in Istanbul) prompted Endevor to pull the plug on the proposed deal with the Crown Prince over his concerning links to the incident. If all goes ahead, Joshua and Ruiz will box in an event staged by the same entity.

Should Ruiz and Joshua come to an agreement, Sky Sports will televise in the UK on their Box Office platform. DAZN are expected to pick it up in the United States and across their regions. DAZN’s hierarchy will be watching from afar with great interest. It was at great cost they drafted AJ across to New York to box Jarrell Miller, in a bid to boost their subscription services. Miller tested positive for PEDs and was replaced by roly-poly Ruiz at short notice. The Mexican-American failed to read the script on June 1 and battered a surprisingly lacklustre Joshua into submission.

It’s doubtful too many fans picked up a DAZN subscription off the back of such an event. Eddie Hearn suggests that numbers into the millions of PPV patrons will purchase the second bout. Even the most disinterested boxing fans are paying attention right now; watching on with intrigue at what happens in the ring, and during the Saudi build-up to this money-spinning December 7 return.

Steve Wellings
Honorary graduate of the Prison Canteen. Covering boxing since 2005 ~ Wolves fan ~ wannabe boxing raconteur.