Ruiz vs Joshua 2: The Ultimate Betrayal
By Jonny Rashman
In the ever-changing merry-go- round of professional sports, technological advancement and the pound sign, has launched our favourite sport stars into a different stratosphere. Gone are the days of having a pint and a chat with one of your hero’s, even acquiring a ticket to watch a live sporting event can seem an onerous task.
After months of political poker being played out on social media, the Andy Ruiz Jr vs Anthony Joshua rematch was finally announced.
The acclaimed ‘biggest fight’ in boxing, the fight the ‘world wants to see’ will be hosted in the obscurity of Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, in front of a live audience of a mere 12,000 spectators, which may stretch to 15,000 if we’re lucky.
The bizarre manner in which the blockbuster contest was confirmed (minus the two protagonists) has shrouded the event in mystery. Questions overflowed answers after the official fight announcement.
How many fans flocked to google to get some much-needed clarification? I certainly did.
• Are you allowed to drink alcohol in Saudi Arabia?
• Casinos in Diriyah?
• Dress code for Joshua vs Ruiz 2?
• Can women attend boxing events by themselves in Saudi Arabia?
The fact the above questions needs elucidating shows a fundamental problem in taking the fight to the Middle East.
No doubt pre-rehearsed, British promoter Eddie Hearn has been consistently, carefully, repeating the same sentences.
“It’s going to be an event that will take your breath away, and it’s going to be an event that will go down in history with the iconic heavyweight moments of the past he said.
“I can’t tell you that money had nothing to do with it, but it was more about the infrastructure and the fact they have done it before. For us we wanted to go somewhere that believed in the sport of boxing, who had a vision.”
This spoon-fed narrative of growing the sport and believing in Saudi Arabia’s vision, we are being subjected to, simply won’t wash with boxing fans. Growing the wallet seems more of an accurate statement.
If growing the sport was the focal point for Hearn, why haven’t roots been put down in the region? Surely two or three shows a year would have shown a genuine plan in integrating Saudi Arabia alongside other major sporting countries.
The decision lacks class and a total disregard for British fight fans. Why two men from Essex and Watford have decided this is baffling to me.
A dangerous precedent has been set by grabbing the money of the oil rich country. Conventional wisdom would suggest hosting a super fight in a country fans demand, where bars, casinos and nightclubs are easily accessible.
If spectators’ needs are no longer focal points in choosing a fight location, where is the sport heading? What’s next? Wilder vs Joshua on the King of Jordan’s super yacht?
Attending a major boxing event isn’t just about watching three hours of action, it’s so much more than that. Its memories being created, its groups of friends having a drink and a flutter on the result. Can you really have that experience in a country governed by strict gambling and alcohol laws?
The irony is, the main sponsors of the event will no doubt be a lead gambling website or alcoholic beverage company.
My dad still vividly recounts the story of how he attended the McGuigan vs Pedroza fight, at a packed-out Queens Park Rangers football ground, some 34 years ago. Are the same stories going to be told in another 34 years about Ruiz vs Joshua 2?
The British fans have backed both Joshua and Hearn from the start. Football stadiums have been packed, social media accounts have been followed and products have been brought. Hard work, talent and ambition have taken them to immeasurable heights, yet, if you take away a loyal following, the rest is insignificant.
The businessman would say, accepting the highest offer to stage the fight was the smart move, the right move. He may be correct, however, if you contextualize the situation and take away the financial aspect. It’s the wrong move, not just for Joshua’s fans, but for the longevity of his career.
Are we really going to pretend it’s not career suicide by taking the rematch anywhere other than the United Kingdom? If Joshua’s boxing career was the main priority, the fight would be held in Britain.
All the talk of Ruiz refusing the fight in the UK, could have been easily eradicated if team Joshua dug deeper into their pockets.
It’s not just the boxing community befuddled by the fight location. A sea of criticism has plagued the contest, with human rights organization Amnesty International voicing their concerns.
Talking at the fight announcement, Hearn stated:
“Saudi Arabia is a huge hub for live sports and entertainment events, no countries perfect, many countries have their problems, I believe that Saudi Arabia are looking to make a difference for their people by creating big sporting events.”
Whilst many countries do have their problems, it’s the scale of Saudi Arabia’s that’s alarming. This isn’t just a case of an incompetent government struggling to thrash out a Brexit deal. This is a country where corporal punishment is still incorporated and democracy and free will don’t exist.
By glossing over the problem with paint that has a sporting colour to it. I can’t help but feel that the human rights atrocities being committed, is going to be hid in an ocean full of spectacular sporting and musical events?
It seems like every statement from the Joshua camp is carefully scripted, with smokescreens intended to distract us at every opportunity.
‘Neutral ground’ was the first word mentioned on the former champion’s social media posts when confirming the fight, meanwhile, Hearn keeps reiterating the fight will be shown primetime on British television screens.
Although the fight time is a plus (if you’re lay on the couch in Britain), It doesn’t hide the fact, that the majority of people who would’ve attended the event in the UK and America, simply can’t watch it live.
How many tickets are going to be available to purchase? The numbers just don’t add up. If 90,000 fans attended Joshua vs Klitschko and Ruiz vs Joshua has a capacity of 15,000, that’s 75,000 loyal fans left out in the cold.
Although traditional American boxing venues typically house 20,000 or less spectators. There are thousands upon thousands of fans, who flock to the country to drink the bars dry and soak up the pre-fight atmosphere.
Look how many British supporters Ricky Hatton took with him when he squared off against Floyd Mayweather in Las Vegas. Can we say with any conviction that an equal number of fans will travel to Saudi Arabia to support Anthony Joshua?
Loyalty is filtering out the workplace, especially in professional sports. Yet, boxing fans still have a relatable connection with the fighters who enter the ring, a bond born from hope and struggle. With certain decisions purely motivated by greed, this bond is slowly being chipped away at.