Matchroom Boxing home in on Conor Benn versus Chris Eubank Jr for Abu Dhabi

CEO Frank Smith tells 'The National' plans are under way for September 23 clash at Etihad Arena

Matchroom Boxing are confident of staging a headline fight between Chris Eubank Jr, left, and Conor Benn in Abu Dhabi. PA
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Matchroom Boxing are confident of delivering a headline fight between Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr for the company’s Abu Dhabi return in September.

Promoters Matchroom, who last year entered into a long-term agreement with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, are currently working on a September 23 event at Etihad Arena, with the aim of securing Benn-Eubank Jr within the next week. Matchroom had initially targeted June 3 for their second show in the emirate.

Speaking to The National, Matchroom Boxing chief executive Frank Smith said: “We’ve been back and forward to Abu Dhabi over the last few months, working through plans with the DCT, and the aim is to deliver an event on September 23 at Etihad Arena.

“Hopefully within the next week or so we’ll be able to get something up and running. But they’re the discussions right now, and the focus for us is to bring the Eubank-Benn fight over.

“I’m very confident that that’s the fight we’re going to be able to deliver. There’s work to be done – as I said, we’re still working through the detail with the DCT – but I’m very confident we’ll be able to get that fight over the line for that date.”

Benn and Eubank Jr, both sons of former rival world champions, were originally scheduled to fight at O2 Arena in England in October, but the bout was cancelled 24 hours beforehand after it was found that Benn had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in August.

The unbeaten welterweight, 21-0 as a professional, was in February cleared by the WBC of intentionally doping and subsequently restored to their rankings. Benn, who has repeatedly protested his innocence, is still prohibited by the British Boxing Board of Control from competing in the UK.

Smith said that, while the fight between the two Englishmen would clearly be a huge draw in the UK, that Abu Dhabi represents the more likely destination at present. He said Benn-Eubank Jr would generate significant interest in Abu Dhabi given its appeal to the local market, as well as to visitors from outside the UAE – particularly from the UK.

Asked when he hoped to secure the bout, Smith said: “We need to deliver it this week in order to put together a successful event, especially from a tourism perspective.

“It gives us 12-13 weeks to really fill out and build out packages to bring people over from the UK particularly; we need a long enough lead time to allow people to plan. That’s the focus for us and why the time frames are important.

“We’re going to have to hit targets and bring tourists over, and we need the ability and the time to do that.”

Dmitry Bivol v Gilberto Ramirez - in pictures

Smith said there have been discussions regarding WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol headlining again in Abu Dhabi following his victory there last November, while Manny Pacquiao’s comeback “remains on the table”.

Pacquiao, 44, retired from boxing in August 2021 following his unanimous decision defeat to Yordenis Ugas. The eight-division champion, who later ran without success for presidency in his native Philippines, has already made clear his desire to face Benn in Abu Dhabi.

“He definitely remains on the table,” Smith said. “He’s looking for opportunities right now. And, especially for the region, he’d have massive pulling power.

“There’s other names as well: we’ll been talking to the likes of Gennady Golovkin, people like that who would work within the region. So there’s a lot of opportunity.

“But we want the biggest fights and to do that we just need the right time frames to deliver.”

Smith said Matchroom would look at a card featuring five to six fights in Abu Dhabi, placing emphasis on building a strong line-up from top to bottom.

The promotion's debut event at Etihad Arena last November, the first in the "Champion Series" with Abu Dhabi, was headlined by Bivol’s victory against Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez.

Smith said Matchroom remain intent on staging several shows in the capital throughout the year.

“For sure. Our plan is always long-term; it’s never just a one-off event,” he said. “We feel, to build the sport and build success, it’s important we invest in the sport.

“You only have to look at the UFC and how that’s grown from 2010 in Abu Dhabi and where it is today. It just shows that you need some patience and investment and what can be created.

“For us, the focus is still to bring regular events, not just huge championship events, but localised events as well, that will keep momentum going in between. And hopefully we could look at two major events a year and then a couple of smaller shows for either local talent or build up local talent in the region.”

Meanwhile, Smith said Matchroom are still hopeful of booking a heavyweight clash between former champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder in Saudi Arabia in December.

The kingdom, whose boxing interests fall under the Riyadh-based Skill Challenge Promotions, wants to hold a marquee event pitting Joshua against Wilder, and WBC champion Tyson Fury against WBO, WBA and IBF belt-holder Oleksandr Usyk on the same night.

On Joshua-Wilder in Saudi, Smith said: “Discussions are ongoing for that one in December. It’s a massive fight. Obviously, the talk is doing Usyk-Fury and AJ-Wilder; we’re still a bit off, there’s still work to be done.

“I think AJ and all the guys are planning to fight around August time, but that’s 100 per cent the thought process and the plan.

“I met with the Saudi guys, Skill Challenge, over the weekend and should have some more details in the next couple of weeks.”

On how likely the double-header would be given the difficulty in tying down Fury to a deal, Smith said: “From our perspective, speaking selfishly as Matchroom, we’re not in the Tyson Fury business. What Tyson Fury chooses to do is up to him. But I’m very confident that Joshua-Wilder gets delivered, that’s what I’ll say.

“I don’t know the ins and outs. Usyk has obviously signed [last week] with Skill Challenge, that makes that easy. So Fury is the one stumbling block. Let’s see. Hopefully, because it would be a massive night for the sport.

“But our focus is delivering AJ against Wilder and, fingers crossed, regardless of whether Fury-Usyk’s on there, we can make that happen.”

Updated: June 14, 2023, 2:40 PM