Hearn Stresses Importance of Staging ‘Major’ Fights in the UK Amid Boxing Boom in Saudi Arabia

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British promoter Eddie Hearn wants to make sure significant fights are not all cannibalized by Saudi Arabia.

The head of Matchroom Boxing insisted in a recent in interview that there needs to be a concerted effort to ensure that high-profile domestic matchups between fighters from Ireland and the United Kingdom take place on local soil and not in the oil-producing country in the Middle East, which has emerged as a de facto capital for the sport in recent months.

Saudi Arabia hosted the high-profile “Day of Reckoning” card a couple of weeks ago that featured Hearn’s client, Anthony Joshua, in the main event against Otto Wallin; also featured was Deontay Wilder, Dmitry Bivol, Jai Opetaia, and Filip Hrgovic, among others. The country promoted the heavyweight crossover bout in October between WBC titlist Tyson Fury and former UFC champion Francis Ngannou. Next month, it will host the undisputed heavyweight championship between Fury and unified champion Oleksandr Usyk. And in March, Joshua will face Ngannou in another crossover boxing match.

The person responsible for this surge is Turki Alalshikh, who heads Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Entertainment, a governmental outfit that oversees Riyadh Season, an annual entertainment festival that lasts for nearly six months and is designed to attract tourists.

“We have to make sure that major fights happen in England, Ireland, wherever, closer to home,” Hearn told iFL TV. “Whether that’s [Katie] Taylor-[Chantelle] Cameron III, whether that’s [Leigh] Wood-[Josh] Warrington, whether that’s [Chris] Eubank-[Conor]Benn, we have to make sure [fights take place in the UK].

“The opportunities to stage major fights in Saudi are there, the cards that we are working on at the moment are incredible. But we do understand that this is our main market. The UK is our main market. We have to make sure that we keep the profile of the sport raised in our country and we do that by great fight nights but also mega great fight nights as well. That’s important.”

After Joshua vs. Ngannou in March, Hearn expects more big events to land in Saudi Arabia in the future.

“During that period, what is September to March, that’s a huge six-month period where we’ve already had Fury-Ngannou, Joshua-Wallin on the Day of Reckoning card, Fury against Usyk, and Joshua [vs. Ngannou] in March,” Hearn said. “So that’s a six-month run. And I think it’s only going to get bigger as we go into the next Riyadh season. What they will do outside of that I don’t know. That’s their strategy to unfold.”

Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.

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