Saudi Arabia has been chosen as the venue to host Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk, which has been confirmed for 20th August.
The British boxer will be attempting to win back the WBA, IBF and WBO titles he lost in September at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. Usyk won the pair’s first contest on points with the judges scoring the fight 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113 in favour of the Ukrainian. A rematch clause was immediately activated.
Usyk vs. Joshua 2, billed ‘Rage on the Red Sea’, will take place in the coastal city of Jeddah.
The decision to fight in Saudi Arabia is likely to cause controversy, due to the country’s human rights record. A 2021 report by human rights organisation Grant Liberty said Saudi Arabia had spent upwards of $1.5bn to bring international sport to the country in a bid to improve its image, also known as 'sportswashing'.
Joshua has fought in Saudi Arabia before. In December 2019, his victory over Andy Ruiz Jr was one of the first major events secured under Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s initiative that seeks to diversify Saudi Arabia’s interests away from the oil sector.
Boxing promotor Eddie Hearn has repeatedly said Saudi Arabia offers the biggest financial package and that is the sole reason for pursuing the deal. In 2019, the Matchroom promoter dismissed concerns about sportwashing and the damage it could do to his, Joshua's and the sport's reputation.
"The sportswashing thing is something over my head," Hearn said. "Our job is to provide opportunities to the fighters. If I put a proposal in front of Joshua and he said to me he was going to Saudi Arabia, and I advised him against, he would say 'see ya'."
Boxing is not the only sport to become involved with Saudi Arabia in recent times. Formula 1, tennis and golf have all held events in the country in recent years, while the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tournament took place on the outskirts of London last week with players accepting huge appearance fees to take part.
Premier League club Newcastle United’s recent takeover by a Saudi-led public investment fund received widespread criticism.
Commenting on the confirmation of the rematch, Hearn said, “It was a huge success to host Anthony Joshua’s contest with Andy Ruiz Jr. in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2019 and we are looking forward to working with the country again to stage this historic event. So, no doubt all eyes of the world will be on the ring come Saturday August 20th. This is a story of redemption, and the countdown starts now.”
The news follows the recent announcement of DAZN Group’s acquisition of the exclusive global media rights to all events featuring Joshua, securing his rights in the UK and Ireland for the first time. The new deal sees the former champion move away from UK pay-television broadcaster Sky for the first time in his professional career.