Tyson Fury v Anthony Joshua: Why Saudi Arabia could be the setting for the 'Battle of Britain'
After successfully staging Joshua's fight against Andy Ruiz Jr last December, the Kingdom could position itself to host a heavyweight unification bout
Before the dust had even settled on Tyson Fury's momentous victory over Deontay Wilder, thoughts had already turned to what comes next for the newly crowned WBC heavyweight champion of the world.
Following his sensational seventh-round stoppage of the previously unbeaten Wilder in Las Vegas on Saturday, Fury, in his own words, is a king rightfully restored to his throne.
A quick survey of his kingdom will see mouth-watering prospects at every turn, whether that's another installment with Wilder to complete the trilogy, or a unification bout with Anthony Joshua, holder of the division's WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO straps.
Fury, 31, said in his post-fight comments that he is "almost sure" Wilder will activate a rematch clause and that, if he does, his choice of venue would be the Allegiant Stadium, home of American football team Las Vegas Raiders, "in front of 70,000 fans."
Wilder is almost certain to activate that clause - he has just under 30 days to do so - but will do well to remember that, save for two knockdowns in the first fight, Fury boxed his ears off over almost 19 completed rounds.
Most neutrals, though, want to see the two best heavyweights around - Fury and Joshua - take up the cudgels to determine who is the undisputed champion.
And while negotiations are no doubt well under way between the myriad promoters, lawyers and TV network executives to make it happen, the choice of venue for the fight has become an even hotter topic of discussion.
Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn recently said a 'Battle of Britain' could take place in Saudi Arabia, according to iFL TV, something that would no doubt discombobulate British boxing fans who have longed to see two of their own duke it out to be called the best in the sport's premier division.
The Kingdom was the setting for Joshua's redemption last December, when he avenged his loss to Andy Ruiz Jr six months previously to beat the Mexican-American by unanimous decision.
Saudi Arabia reportedly paid £30 million (Dh142m) to host the fight billed as the 'Clash on the Dunes' in Diriyah, part of a committed $650 million (Dh2.38 billion) investment to the sports sector by the General Sports Authority (GSA).
Hearn said he was planning to put "three or four" shows in Saudi Arabia in 2020, and a Joshua v Fury fight could command $200 million paydays for the fighters, according to Business Insider. Joshua's victory on the outskirts of Riyadh nearly three months ago earned him a reported $85 million.
Frank Warren, who looks after Fury's interests, also refused to rule out Riyadh, saying: “I don’t know where it’s going to take place. Wherever the most money comes from. It’s the boxers who get in the ring and they’ll make the choices."
Hearn wasted little time trying to gain traction for a future Fury-Joshua fight, telling a British radio station: "I have said and I will make this clear, we have to make this fight happen. We will never get the chance for two Brits to fight for an undisputed heavyweight world championship.
"I will promise you we will do everything we can to make this fight happen."
The same Saudi Arabian powerbrokers who helped stage Joshua-Ruiz Jr 2 in the Middle East were ringside for Fury's destruction of Wilder, according to a BBC report, fueling speculation that the Kingdom is maneuvering to bring more lucrative bouts to the region. They don't come much bigger than Fury v Joshua.
The idea of the fight potentially taking place in Saudi is already being met with opposition, most notably from veteran Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who believes a fight of this magnitude should be held in the UK or USA.
Whether that view has merit, it is worth considering that Arum, who last year secured a multi-fight deal to look after Fury's interests on American soil, is likely to hold much less sway than Hearn over negotiations for a potential fight in Saudi, a territory where he has no foothold and Hearn already has extensive contacts.
Preceding the Joshua-Ruiz rematch, GSA chairman Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said one of its mandates was to "achieve excellence" in hosting major sporting events, with both Joshua and Ruiz effusive in their praise for their hosts following their December bout. The chance to give Saudis the chance to witness athletes at the peak of their powers on home soil "has no price", the Prince added.
Staging a mega-fight between Fury and Joshua will cost a pretty penny, but the opportunity to see the two best heavyweight pugilists in the same ring is something only money can buy.
Updated: February 24, 2020 11:42 AM