JEDDAH: “The whole world will be watching” Ukrainian world champion Oleksandr Usyk defend his title against Britain’s Anthony Joshua in a fight billed as the “Rage on the Red Sea,” Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz, chairman of Skill Challenge Entertainment, said.
Prince Khalid was speaking during the press conference at Shangri-La Hotel in Jeddah ahead of the Aug. 20 showdown, with the two main headliners and other boxers from the card also giving their views on the event.
“The whole world will be watching,” he said, referring to the heavyweight bout. “It is a huge milestone for Saudi Arabia and sports in the Kingdom.”
Prince Khalid added: “I want Saudi Arabia to be on the boxing map and to empower the people of our country. We want to get involved more in female boxing and, hopefully, we will have Saudi women fighting and representing the nation in the future.”
During the press conference Usyk and Joshua declared themselves ready for the fight, and acknowledged the enthusiastic atmosphere and the hospitality they have experienced in Saudi Arabia.
Joshua will be hoping it is the second time he regains the heavyweight championship in the Kingdom, having beaten Andy Ruiz Jr. in Riyadh in December 2019.
“I am grateful to everyone in Saudi Arabia for their support and hospitality. I am grateful to my team for training me in an excellent way. We raised the level of training and improved the mental focus by being disciplined enough to achieve the goals that I have for myself. What drives me is my passion for competition and always improving above all. Attaining success is my first goal and not the belts.”
Usyk, meanwhile is fighting as much for the Ukrainian people as he is for himself.
“Physically, we are ready for this game and have spent a lot of time on training. There is a great atmosphere and spirit here in the Kingdom which keeps motivating us. I am really thankful to the Saudi people for their hospitality and warm welcome and hope to come to the Kingdom more frequently,” he said.
Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz, spokesperson for Skill Challenge Entertainment, said: “We are very proud that boxing in Saudi Arabia continues to grow its profile, (allowing us) to host this global event which would have not have been achieved without the support of our wise leadership and the efforts of the Ministry of Sports as well as the tireless work of the Saudi Boxing Federation.”
Speaking to Arab News, he added: ” I hope this event turns out to be successful and Saudi Arabia becomes a destination for other international sports events, alongside boxing.”
Abdullah Ahmed Al-Harbi, president of the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation, said: “It’s great to see the ecosystem of boxing coming to life in the Kingdom and I hope this (event) turns out to be one of the best we will ever witness in the coming years. It doesn’t get bigger than this world heavyweight championship, as it features five different belts and we wish all the luck to the boxers.”
He also looked forward to the undercard, in particular the first female pro fighters to appear on an international professional card in Saudi Arabia.
“This surely is a historic boxing event not only for the Kingdom but also for the world, and I am very glad to be a part of it,” Al-Harbi said.
“The beauty of this event is that it is the second one in the Kingdom, after the first was held in Diriyah Season in Riyadh, and from then we have seen a big transformation and the growth in amateur boxing,” he said.
“We now have almost 24 clubs and more than 700 boxers. Besides, we have an Olympic event that is featuring 300 boxers in Jeddah. We are (seeing) mass participation within the sport, and we look forward to inspiring more people to participate after this event.”
Commenting on Ziyad Al-Maayouf, the first professional fighter to represent Saudi Arabia, Al-Harbi said: “We are all behind him and support him as he becomes the first Saudi pro boxer to fight in his home country. He will surely inspire a new generation of amateurs to turn pro and help them aim to compete on a higher level.”
Al-Maayouf, who will face Mexico’s Jose Alatorre on Saturday, said he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received and feels a little under the pressure with all eyes on him.
“I definitely feel the pressure,” he said. “It’s something that you are going to feel in anything you do that’s important. But there are always two roads to take once you have the pressure. It’s either you enjoy every minute and make the best of it and let it not worry you, or not have fun and let it become an obstacle. I chose the first, to turn the pressure into something good. I am very excited to fight in front of my people and I know, no matter what, they are behind me and I really appreciate that.”
During the Rage on the Red Sea undercard press conference, the other boxers — Zhang Zhilei, Filip Hrgovic, Callum Smith, Mathieu Bauderlique, Badou Jack, Andrew Tabiti, Rashed Belhasa, Bader Samreen, Ramla Ali and Crystal Garcia Nova — all revealed their delight at taking part in the event.
“I and my opponent will be making history together and along the way, we are going to inspire loads of girls to not only take up boxing, but also participate in any kinds of sports. It’s a great feeling to know the fact that I will be inspiring many other women,” Ali said.
Her opponent, Garcia Nova, sent out a message that boxing is for everybody and that there should be no gender discrimination.
“If women want to learn boxing or they want to do something else on their own, then they should go ahead as this will give them a better attitude and (chance) to defend themselves against anybody.”
Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield said he could not split the two fighters in the main event.
“Everyone has their favorites to go on and win the title, but I am neutral,” he said. “I believe both Usyk and Joshua have to be at their best and give the fans a good fight.”