Promoter Eddie Hearn predicts a “brilliant heavyweight fight” when Anthony Joshua meets defending champion Oleksandr Usyk in the highly anticipated title rematch in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday, August 20.
Joshua will get an opportunity to regain the WBA, IBF, IBO and WBO belts he lost to Usyk when the pair clash again in a fight that has been billed “Rage on the Red Sea”.
Joshua arrived in the kingdom four weeks ahead of his fight to continue his preparation to become a three-time unified heavyweight champion.
Hearn believes Joshua’s decision to arrive early in Saudi Arabia is a “sign of confidence” for his attempt to bounce back from his defeat to Usyk in London 11 months ago.
“It’s a huge fight to the boxing world and to the kingdom. There’s going to be a lot of great people there, a lot of great fighters and a huge media presence. The whole world will be watching at Jeddah,” Hearn told The National on Saturday.
“For us, all we want to see is an Anthony Joshua victory but it’s going to be a tough fight. He’s prepared fantastically well, and I think we are going to see a brilliant heavyweight fight.”
Usyk’s victory over Joshua gave him the heavyweight belts and stretched his unbeaten professional career record to 19.
Hearn felt history will be on Joshua’s side, recalling his rematch with Andy Ruiz to regain the world titles in Riyadh on December 2019 six months after the two-time champion surprisingly went down to the Mexican-American at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“This is a bigger fight than Joshua-Ruiz because Usyk is a pound-for-pound king,” Hearn said.
“He’s probably pound-for-pound No 1. It’s similar that AJ must win because he’s coming after a defeat. He will have very fond memories of that Ruiz fight because he went on to win the rematch and we believe he can do that again.
“I’m not just saying it, it’s one of the fights he feels most comfortable about. He has such fond memories of the kingdom because of his time in the Ruiz fight, and also don’t forget that he’s been out there for four weeks already and that shows how comfortable he is.”
Hearn explained there wasn’t a major difference in Joshua’s training but said it was about how comfortable and relaxed he felt.
“Normally a fighter would go one week before. The way they [the Saudis] made him feel the first time, he’s always wanted to come back,” he said.
Usyk, faced with a tough decision to make due to prevailing war situation back home in Ukraine, will be travelling late.
“It’s very sensitive so you really don’t know what’s happening and what’s in people’s mind,” Hearn said.
“He had a difficult decision to make between showcasing his country and his flag, and defending his world title with honour at the world stage, or staying with his people.
“I think if you have someone as popular as Usyk on that kind of stage, flying that flag to the world, I think it’s very important they do that and that was the decision he made.”
Hearn, meanwhile, is hopeful for an undisputed heavyweight championship between the winner of Joshua-Usyk and Tyson Fury.
“It has always been the kingdom’s aim to make the undisputed heavyweight world championship and we aren’t very far away from that with the winner of the Joshua-Usyk fight meeting Tyson Fury for the undisputed championship.
“I think that’s the aim of the kingdom and obviously my aim to see Anthony win on Saturday and then fight Tyson Fury for the undisputed championship.”
Speaking on the Joshua-Ruiz bout in the kingdom three years ago, Hearn recollected the challenges they faced at that time.
“The first fight we did was so challenging because to do a venue took 14 weeks,” he said.
“We didn’t know much about the people and the kingdom, and we were worried. We went over there and it was just sand, but they said everything will be fine, and it was.
“It was a fantastic experience, though. We had a lot of belief in our partners in Saudi Arabia. We know they did a great job for a massive event.”
However, the Joshua-Usyk rematch takes place at the King Abdullah Sports City Arena, which Hearn said was a “fantastic” venue with “brilliant” atmosphere.
“The changes that have taken place from then and now are unbelievable,” he added. “I’m a big believer in the best way to have your own opinion is to actually seeing it and understanding it.
“I was surprised when I arrived at the fight venue in Jeddah for the press conference eight weeks ago because, this time, I walked into a venue I simply couldn’t believe.
“It was really good to see because my job is to promote the territory and the region, and to talk about things changing.
“If things don’t change it’s very difficult for me to do that or speak with any kind of passion. It was a different kind of place, a different atmosphere and a different energy, and then you go ‘wow, change is happening'.”
Hearn didn’t have an issue with going to Saudi Arabia and taking boxing away from the UK when he saw the investment in the grass roots of the sport, the participation level and the boxing clubs in the kingdom.
“When you see the excitement and the enjoyment, and when we showed the Joshua-Uryk promo in the square, it was amazing,” the British promoter said.
“It was something like out of the film, like these two gladiators being followed by the members of the public.”
According to Hearn, the sport has yet to catch up in Saudi Arabia and he believes they need an Olympic champion to take boxing to the next level.
“For the sport to flourish in any country, it needs one of their own to flourish,” he said.
“There are boxers from Saudi Arabia but the investment in the amateur level and the grassroots is only happening now. You're going to see that in the next few years.
“I really believe it’s going to take an Olympic medal or a championship fight for the local people to follow the sport. The participation is up 300 per cent at the amateur and grassroots level.
“The participation is working but they still have a long way to go. They need quality coaches and they need champions. If we can find a champion that will be a complete game-changer.”
Hearn is confident about boxing’s growing popularity in the region and sees the UAE as a big market over the next few years.
“We intend to do lots of fights and business with the Emirates as well,” he said. “The pandemic really halted the progress of boxing in the kingdom for two years as they had big plans.
“Now we are back, I would like to see a calendar of boxing events rather than one-offs. I would like to see around three or four events in Saudi and other territories such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. Saudi is the front-runner right now in terms of staging big boxing in the region.
“We have had meetings in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Manama, and in many different places. Everybody is looking to host major sporting events in the region.
“We would like to continue with our development and keep our conversations but for the moment focus on the August 20 to deliver a great event for Saudi Arabia.”