Eddie Hearn defends staging Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia


Promoter Eddie Hearn has defended the decision to stage Anthony Joshua’s eagerly-anticipated rematch against Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia amid the mass scrutiny surrounding this week’s inaugural LIV Golf series event, insisting boxing cannot be compared to other sports.

There was criticism in abundance when Premier League outfit Newcastle finally confirmed their mega-money Saudi-backed takeover last year, and this week the topic of sportswashing has once again hit the headlines, with a number of elite golfers lured by the new event.

Hearn has already staged an event in Saudi Arabia, being Joshua’s rematch victory over Andy Ruiz Jr in 2019. And the former champion is now set to return to the Middle East, with the fight announcement to come next week.

Eddie Hearn (right) has defended the decision to stage Oleksandr Usyk vs Anthony Joshua II in Saudi Arabia

The pair will do battle once more on August 20, with Joshua fighting in the Middle East for a second time

The pair will do battle once more on August 20, with Joshua fighting in the Middle East for a second time 

Usyk dazzled his way to a wide decision win to claim Joshua’s IBF, WBA and WBO belts last year, and the pair will square off once more on August 20, taking place in an indoor venue to compensate for the searing heat, with Hearn now insisting the fight is signed and sealed.

There will, as there were prior to Joshua’s encounter against Ruiz Jr, be questions raised regarding the location throughout the build-up to the fight. But, for Hearn, he firmly stands by the decisions made.

‘The problem at the moment is no one wants to be honest,’ he said. ‘I’m very comfortable, particularly in boxing, to make decisions like that, for many different reasons.

‘One is that I’ve done it before. It was a huge success. I’ve seen the work that went in to make a major sporting event for the region. It’s not a game of golf.

‘I’m not saying the golfers shouldn’t be playing in this tournament, I’m saying it’s a prize fight where contractually we have to go to the venue that ultimately creates the most amount of revenue for this fight – whether AJ likes it or not.

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‘It’s not even close. It’s not like there’s a little bit of a difference from doing it in London. It’s a whole different stratosphere.’

Where Hearn doesn’t necessarily believe the Saudi-backed golf event should be frowned upon, he does insist those competing in it should be transparent as to why they are doing so.

A number of elite golfers, inclduing Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have signed up for the inaugural LIV Golf Series event, which has received mass crticism

A number of elite golfers, inclduing Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have signed up for the inaugural LIV Golf Series event, which has received mass crticism

Joshua and Hearn have taken boxing to Saudi Arabia in the past, when the former avenged his defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr

Joshua and Hearn have taken boxing to Saudi Arabia in the past, when the former avenged his defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr

Some, like Lee Westwood, have insisted they would be ‘stupid’ to turn down the money. Others, however, have insisted the financial rewards are not what has driven them to compete.

Hearn continued: ‘With these golfers, they’ve got to sit down and say, “I was excited by this project” – which they genuinely could be – “I wanted to have my own destiny in terms of my schedule, and I want to make a lot of money.” They’re missing that bit out. 

Boxing’s different; boxing is a sport where we all expect these guys to go in, have a fight in front of all these people around the world in a potentially damaging environment – and I have an obligation to make them as much money as possible.

‘I’m doing that, and I’ve done it time and time again. I’ve experienced it (the Middle East), I’ve enjoyed it, and we’ll be doing it again.

‘The golf conversation, it is different because it’s a game of golf, but they’ve just got to be honest. You can still be excited – I’m excited to do another show in Saudi, the first one was unbelievable. They built a stadium from the ground up in 10 or 11 weeks.

‘So, we’re ready for the questions and I will answer them as honestly as before. But rather than sitting there and saying I’m not prepared to comment on that… that don’t wash with me.’

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Hearn, who insists ‘everyone has tried’ to branch out to the Middle East, not just Matchroom, also says Joshua is not concerned about any potential backlash upon the official announcement.

Not only has Joshua fought there before, but he and Usyk will get an equal split of the pot this time round, meaning the decision regarding the location has to come from both sides.

Joshua and Usyk will be sharing a 50-50 split of the fight purse for the impending bout

Joshua and Usyk will be sharing a 50-50 split of the fight purse for the impending bout

Usyk's team now have considerably more pulling power in terms of where the fight is held

Usyk’s team now have considerably more pulling power in terms of where the fight is held 

‘He’s experienced it before, he’s gone through the whole process before,’ Hearn said. ‘He’ll ultimate go, “Eddie over to you, I’m going to train.”

‘I’m not going to say his hands are tied, but it’s a very different deal when you have a 50-50 split with another fighter, where the basis of the contract is to maximise the revenue of the fight.

‘How can you go back to Usyk and say we’d like to do it at Spurs. They’ll ask what the other options are – it’s a non-starter.

‘He will just say, “Look, this was a good opportunity for me, I’ve been there before, I had a great experience, I won. Yes, I’m going to make a lot of money, and I’m also going to go in there and put my health on the line for your entertainment.”’

Meanwhile, Hearn insists Joshua has only recently accepted his defeat to Usyk back in September of last year.

The former unified champion attempted to box the better boxer, in what in hindsight proved to be a foolish move. He has since added trainer Robert Garcia to his camp, however, while leaving long-term coach Robert McCracken.

Hearn explained: ‘For a long time he was quite rebellious and said, “No I could have beaten him like that”, rather than saying, “What was I doing?”

‘That’s what he’s saying now. When he’s sat down with Robert and he’s watched it, they see a way to beat him.

Hearn insists Joshua has only recently accepted the manner of his defeat to the Ukrainian

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Hearn insists Joshua has only recently accepted the manner of his defeat to the Ukrainian 

He has teamed up with Robert Garcia, however, which Hearn says will benefit him hugely

He has teamed up with Robert Garcia, however, which Hearn says will benefit him hugely

‘We’ve always seen a way to beat Usyk, but when you get in there it’s different. But I’m a lot more confident due to the fact he’s shared 12 rounds with him, rather than just going in there, because there’s a wizardry about Usyk.’

He continued: ‘He wasn’t himself in that first fight. He’s just got to go in there and be himself. It’s not difficult, not trying to be something he’s not. Just be yourself and you’ll beat him.’

Hearn now believes Joshua will win well inside the distance, insisting the influence Garcia will have is invaluable.

‘I see him winning this fight inside six rounds,’ he said. ‘That’s how he’s got to feel in this fight. You’ve got to cut him off and you’ve got to f****** hit him anywhere you want.

‘He doesn’t like it round the body; he’s been down many times in WSB claiming back, low blow. Whack him anywhere.’

He continued: ‘It’s very important to have that experience, not just in camp but in the corner on the night. Robert’s the kind of guy that won’t take any s***.

‘If he wants AJ to do something, he’ll shout at him. Sometimes with these big stars there are too many people saying, “What do you want to do, AJ?” Garcia will f***** tell him, or he’ll get on the plane, and that’s what he needed.’



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