Matchroom Boxing has announced that the rematch between Anthony Joshua and WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz, Jr. will take place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia on December 7th. The General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia will pay a site fee north of $50 million to host the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ event. As one might expect, the decision to stage the fight in the middle east as opposed to in Wales (as anticipated) or in Tijuana (as Ruiz preferred) has been heavily criticized.
Howie Long-Short: Some look at the choice to go to Saudi Arabia as Hearn cashing in his chips on Joshua – he certainly knows a 2nd defeat would kill his golden goose. I’m not so sure. As one high ranking DAZN executive said, “if [Hearn] thinks Joshua is going to lose, then it surely makes sense to take the payday now. But if he thinks A.J. is going to win, why not also take the [$50 million+] now?”
The counter argument is for Hearn to maximize Joshua’s value, he needs to raise the fighter’s profile in the U.S and a fight that airs at 4p EST/1p PST (Saudi Arabia is +7 hours ahead) will draw less eyeballs than one airing on Saturday night; there’s also going to be significantly less media attending a fight in the KSA, so ‘Clash on the Dunes’ won’t receive the coverage it should stateside. Both are valid points, but neither matters unless A.J. is victorious. The executive we spoke to agreed saying “go win and then you can get back to deciding how to market.”
To be clear, DAZN had “no say – zero” in the decision to host the fight in the KSA. Our source within the company explained “the promoter puts on the fight and they choose the venue – we just get to stream it.” While it has not been formally announced that DAZN will carry the fight, Hearn’s relationship with the company makes it all but certain.
DAZN obviously would have preferred the fight be held in the U.S., but our source said “after that, every city is just about the same. London may be some percentage better than Diriyah, but now you’re fighting over details; and you can make the argument that the controversy surrounding Saudi Arabia will bring more attention [to the fight] than had it been held in London.” It’s worth noting that DAZN will end up paying less to stream the fight from the KSA than they would have had it been in the U.S.
The truth is, from the DAZN POV too much is being made about the location of Ruiz-Joshua II. Their marquee attraction is Canelo Alvarez and as we were told “the most important thing to [DAZN’s] U.S. business is his next fight. Canelo is the LeBron of boxing in this country. A.J. is the Durant. Durant is amazing, but he’s not LeBron. There is only one superstar and it is Canelo Alvarez.”
Andy Ruiz Jr. is contractually obligated to take the rematch and the $9 million he’s guaranteed, but that doesn’t mean he’s showing up in Saudi Arabia under those terms. The Athletic is reporting that Ruiz has refused to sign-off on the fight unless he receives “a significantly higher purse.” There’s certainly a case to be made that he deserves more, but I don’t believe he has much leverage. Ruiz loses much of his marketability without those four belts.
Fan Marino: The DAZN executive we spoke to was uncomfortable with the idea of attending an event where female colleagues may be uncomfortable or unwelcome. Others oppose going out of concern the Saudi authorities are using the event to “sportswash’ their severely tarnished image.” When asked if I would be willing to attend if invited, I said yes; that as a sports business processional and sports fan, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend a heavyweight championship fight outdoors in the middle east.
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