The rise of Saudi Arabia as a global boxing hub: A look at the biggest fights

Since 2018, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a global hub for boxing — hosting some of the most significant bouts in the sport over the last five years.

With high-profile fights such as Anthony Joshua vs Francis Ngannou — which ‘AJ’ is the favourite to win in the Joshua Ngannou odds — and Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk on the horizon, let’s delve into the events that have solidified Saudi Arabia’s status as a boxing destination.

The origins

The surge of boxing in the Middle East can be traced back to September 2018 when Callum Smith faced George Groves in a bout that saw Smith claim the WBA super-middleweight title and the vacant The Ring belt, as well as winning the World Boxing Super Series.

Notable matchups on the same card included Chris Eubank Jr. defeating J.J. McDonagh after just three rounds.

In July 2019, Amir Khan and Hughie Fury continued the trend — securing victories against Billy Dib and Samuel Peter, respectively.

Clash on the Dunes

The momentum gained from these events set the stage for larger-than-life contests in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

One of the defining moments was the rematch between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Joshua in December 2019, known as the ‘Clash on the Dunes’.

After Ruiz Jr.’s upset victory at Madison Square Garden earlier that year, Joshua spectacularly reclaimed his belts — marking the first mega-fight in the Kingdom.

Rage on the Red Sea

August 2022 brought another thrilling matchup, ‘Rage on the Red Sea’, where Joshua aimed to reclaim his titles from Usyk after losing to the Ukrainian at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 11 months earlier.

Despite a much better showing than in their first encounter, AJ fell agonisingly short once again, and Usyk retained his belts through a split decision victory — adding another chapter to the Saudi boxing saga.

Battle of the Baddest

In 2023, the ‘Battle of the Baddest’ featured the ‘Gypsy King’ Fury taking on former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou in the mixed martial artist’s boxing debut.

Despite the bout ultimately ending in a controversial split-decision defeat, Ngannou made a good account of himself and showcased his boxing skills by knocking Fury down in the third round and landing powerful punches.

Day of Reckoning

The pinnacle of 2023 was the ‘Day of Reckoning’ in December, featuring two heavyweight headliners — Anthony Joshua against Otto Wallin and Deontay Wilder facing Joseph Parker.

The night promised a potential showdown between Joshua and Wilder, contingent on both winning their respective fights.

While Joshua delivered with a fifth-round stoppage, Wilder suffered an upset in the boxing betting — losing on points against New Zealander Parker.

The Day of Reckoning wasn’t just limited to the co-main events either, with several other big fights on the night — including Dmitry Bivol defending his WBA world light heavyweight title against Lyndon Arthur and Jai Opetaia putting his cruiserweight belt on the line against Ellis Zorro.

Coming up this year

Looking ahead, the coming months promise more blockbuster fights that will shape the future of the heavyweight division

Fury and Usyk were set to clash in ‘Ring of Fire’ on February 17, with the winner being crowned the undisputed heavyweight champion.

However, the bout was pushed back to May after the Gypsy King suffered a freak accident in sparring — yet anticipation remains high.

March will witness Joshua’s return to Saudi Arabia, facing Ngannou in a bout aptly named ‘Knockout Chaos’.

Saudi Arabia has firmly established itself as a prominent destination for major boxing events.

The hosting of significant bouts, coupled with the anticipation surrounding upcoming matchups, reflects the Kingdom’s growing influence in the world of boxing.

As fans eagerly await ‘Knockout Chaos’ and future showdowns, Saudi Arabia continues to play a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of global boxing.

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