When we think of big boxing bouts these days, we always think of Las Vegas. The Nevada capital has become the center of the boxing and combat sports universe thanks to its state-of-the-art facilities and open attitude to wagering. The city is an entertainment mecca and boxing is the most showbiz sport of them all – but it hasn’t always been that way.
Up until the 1950s, it was the US East Coast which was the home of boxing. Top-class fighters would travel to New York or Philadelphia to contest championship bouts where crowds of up to 90,000 would gather. New York still hosts some big fights but Vegas has grown to become boxing’s premier destination. Muhammad Ali vs Michael Spinks, Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis vs Vitali Klitschko, Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Manny Pacquiao, Gennady Golovkin vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder are just a few of the big boxing matches to be staged in the Nevada desert.
Recently, however, a pretender to the crown of “The home of Boxing” has emerged in the Middle East. After heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr. upset the boxing world by beating highly-rated British fighter Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2019, the two agreed on a rematch in Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage site near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The fight was dubbed the “Clash on the Dunes” and resulted in a win for Joshua who pocketed a cool $74 million from the contest.
It was the first heavyweight title fight to be staged in the region and is part of a wider plan to bring major sports and promote tourism in the country. Saudi Arabia is undergoing many reforms and trying to improve its image as a global destination. Their “Vision 2030” plan includes bringing Formula E motor racing, European Tour golf, and Spanish Super Cup soccer to the country, and to hold a major event such as the soccer World Cup in the future. In 2019, another British fighter, Amir Khan, won the vacant WBC International welterweight title in Jeddah.
Joshua could face Ruiz for the third time while he waits for the opportunity to take on either Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury, with the two due to fight again this year.
Joshua is currently the second favorite in the boxing betting to be the next undisputed heavyweight world champion but he may have to fight two or three more times to finally get his shot at the big one. Whether he returns to Saudi Arabia or not remains to be seen but the country has shown its willingness to support boxing the Middle East and we doubt it will be too long before the next big fight is staged there.
Despite the emergence of Saudi Arabia, Las Vegas still has the prestige and appeal to remain the premier venue in the sport. Tyson Fury is a fan of Vegas and his yet-to-be-scheduled third fight against Wilder is likely to take part in Nevada. However, if Fury faces Joshua in the future, the choice of venue could be one of the key negotiating points of the contest and Saudi Arabia could be willing to break the bank to bring the fight to the dunes.