Saudi Arabia hopes to inspire half a million boxing fans to take up sport


The world heavyweight championship rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia will be significant not only in the boxing world but also beyond.

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Joshua will get an opportunity to regain the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts he lost to Usyk in their first clash in London last September when the pair clash again in Jeddah on August 20.

The rematch – which has been billed as “Rage on the Red Sea” – is the second world heavyweight title fight to take place in the kingdom after the Briton’s championship rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr in Riyadh in 2019. There, Joshua regained the heavyweight belts that he subsequently lost to Usyk.

With so much at stake, Saudi Arabia will be in the spotlight once again this month. The kingdom has emerged as a hub for world-class sporting activities over the past few years with Formula One, golf and other sports taking root, alongside major football events like the Spanish Super Cup, which was held in Riyadh earlier this year.

For now, boxing is at the front and center of the sporting landscape in the kingdom. For Prince Fahad bin Abdelaziz, spokesperson for Skill Challenge Entertainment – ​​global rights holder for the heavyweight rematch – Joshua-Usyk 2 will only boost the already growing popularity of boxing in the country.

Saudi Arabia is aiming to inspire half a million boxing enthusiasts in the country to take up the sport over the next four years, and progress is already being made on that front.

Prince Fahad Bin Abdelaziz, spokesperson for Skill Challenge Entertainment - global rights holder for the world heavyweight title rematch between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk.  Image supplied

“One of the major reasons to host events like this here in the kingdom is to inspire the locals and future generations at a grassroots level,” Prince Fahad said.

“Since the last fight – “Clash of the Dunes” in 2019 – we have witnessed a 300 per cent increase in men and women participating in boxing and the number of boxing gyms increase from seven to 59. Through hosting further events like this, including the first women’s boxing championships, we aim to inspire over 500,000 individuals to take up the sport in the next four years.”

An event of this magnitude not only aligns with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 – which includes several multibillion-dollar projects to put Saudi Arabia at the forefront of innovation, tech and youth-driven initiatives – it also aims to showcase the vibrant side of the kingdom.

“Sport and entertainment play a central role in Vision 2030, the strategy behind the nation’s transformation. Hosting the world heavyweight championship is a culmination of everything happening in the kingdom at the moment. The changes and transformation as a result of Vision 2030 inspires us to host some of the biggest global sporting events like this,” Prince Fahad said.

“A key achievement will be to inspire the nation and region to try the sport and hopefully fall in love with it like so many already have. Alongside this we want to showcase the true Saudi Arabia to the rest of the world: the wonderful people, the country’s transformation, the beauty of the landscape on the Red Sea.”

The boxing world will be watching the rematch closely as it is expected to reveal where Joshua is in the pecking order of heavyweight boxers.

Former undisputed cruiserweight world champion Usyk won the first match convincingly at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium by unanimous decision.

The comprehensive nature of the defeat forced Joshua to make major changes to his camp ahead of the rematch, replacing long-time head trainer Rob McCracken with American Robert Garcia.

However, the Briton knows what will matter is victory, and nothing else.

“I’m definitely desperate to get my hands on it. But there’s too much talking. Less talk, more action,” Joshua said last month.

“Let me get in there and do my job, that’s my priority. I’m definitely hungry, definitely desperate but how I perform will speak volumes to the masses.”

Updated: August 09, 2022, 11:14 AM

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