by Eddie Goldman
It is absolutely preposterous and utterly senseless to speak of morality and boxing together. This is a sport whose history includes fights where you win by pulling your opponent's eye out, or staging "battle royales" with several Black fighters in the ring at the same time smashing each other for the "entertainment" of white audiences, or simply abandoning fighters to a life of penury, infirmity, and obscurity once they are no longer fit and healthy enough to make money for their promoters and networks.
The overlords of boxing are bound by no rule or ethic other than what they can get away with. If they can avoid getting shut down legally (one way or another), if their shows are financially viable, and if they are not too socially unacceptable, it's ladies and gentleman, another great night of fights.
And the only way in a money-based society to have it otherwise is to abolish boxing altogether.
But for those of us not yet ready to call for such a measure, and who still today find some value however perverse in watching this blood-smeared art, we can only evaluate what goes on in boxing by judging how far it goes beyond the already strained limits of what is tolerable by enough of the public to avoid such a shutdown. Thus, we have many fights regulated by governmental commissions of varying degrees of competence and integrity, drug testing at times even though it is most often inadequate, and contracts with varying degrees of enforceability. These are far from goodwill gestures, but necessary compromises with the public to provide the veneer of concern for health and safety of the fighters, their getting paid what they have earned, and their getting fair officiating in their fights.
It is by these quite porous standards that the recent announcement that the Andy Ruiz Jr.-Anthony Joshua rematch has been scheduled to take place Dec. 7 in the human rights-less Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in a town called Diriyah on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh, should be judged.
Even with all this leeway for boxing's usual trickeration, so far this one appears to be a royally asshole move.
This fight, obviously critical for Joshua who can ill afford another loss to Ruiz like he suffered back in June, will take place in a country with no known regulatory body. The Sept. 2018 show headlined by the World Boxing Super Series super middleweight finals between Callum Smith and George Groves, held in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, had officials imported from Europe for this card. The July 2019 show headlined by the Amir Khan-Billy Dib mismatch is listed on BoxRec as being as "Unsanctioned Show".
So far, with all the interviews by our wondrous boxing media of Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, who set this deal up with a little-known Saudi company called Skill Challenge Entertainment, no one has even bothered to ask these questions. Who will select the officials, who will do the medicals, who will do the drug testing, who will check for suspensions, who will make sure the ring and the premises are at least adequate, what will be the ringside medical support, will there be waiting ambulances and oxygen if needed, who guarantees that the fighters are paid in full promptly that night, etc., etc., etc.?
The building for this fight also does not yet exist. It will supposedly take place in a temporary stadium which is scheduled to be up and running in time for this fight, less than four months away. Just who will check on its readiness?
The choice of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by Hearn was supposedly to satisfy Ruiz, who wanted a neutral venue not in the U.K., which might have given Joshua an advantage. Obviously Saudi Arabia was only chosen because this outfit in this oil-rich country offered a gargantuan fee for the show, even if they stand to lose millions. It would thus be seen by the Saudis as an investment and advertisement of how civilized their absolute, theocratic monarchy has become.
Yet does the contract stipulating an immediate rematch and choice of venue by the Joshua side include places like this with no extant regulation and no history of staging what should be a mega-fight for several major heavyweight titles?
Ruiz and his handlers, to the degree they have spoken publicly, have not acknowledged that this fight is happening in Saudi Arabia. Ruiz even stated that in such a venue he would have "no protection over there." (https://metro.co.uk/2019/08/14/andy-ruiz-claims-anthony-joshua-rematch-will-happen-america-not-saudi-arabia-10569223/)
With the information we have so far, who can dispute that?
Joshua, once the darling of SportsPro Media's world list of the most marketable athletes, and who was believed by many (including yours truly) to have the potential to become as popular or nearly so as Muhammad Ali once was, has now had what in pro "wrestling" is known as a heel turn, and is playing the bad guy.
Sounding more like the Iron Sheik than he used to, Joshua called Lennox Lewis, the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world who retired about 15 years ago, "a clown". (https://www.bbc.com/sport/boxing/49355046)
He told a show on Sky Sports, which broadcasts his fights as pay-per-views in the U.K., that Ruiz only defeated him in June by "a lucky punch", even though Joshua was knocked down four times before the fight was stopped by the referee in the seventh round. (https://www.skysports.com/boxing/news/12183/11785974/ruiz-jr-vs-joshua-ii-anthony-joshua-insists-defeat-was-caused-by-a-punch-sent-by-the-gods)
Whether all this was said out of anger or denial, or to psych himself up for the rematch, or as a disagreeable ploy to market the fight, Anthony Joshua is also shedding his heretofore honorable image and now acting like an asshole.
The blowback from all of this has been intensified by the international prominence of Saudi Arabia as an unrepentant adversary of human rights and for carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity against the civilian population in its war in Yemen.
In June, a British court of appeal ruled that country's arms sales to Saudi Arabia were unlawful because, to quote Sir Terence Etherton, the master of the rolls, the ministers had "made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so". (https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/jun/20/uk-arms-sales-to-saudi-arabia-for-use-in-yemen-declared-unlawful)
In July, rare bi-partisan resolutions passed in the U.S. Congress to prohibit arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates only were stopped by presidential vetoes from Trump. (https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/24/politics/saudi-arms-sale-resolutions-trump-veto/index.html)
And then, of course, there was the vicious murder and dismemberment of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi last year, which captured the world's attention.
Putting a fight at this time in such a high-profile gangster-like monarchy that Saudi Arabia is only further enrages people, who just want to see the Ruiz-Joshua rematch.
While Joshua has resumed giving interviews, not a word has come from the former heavyweight champ about any of the crimes of the Saudi regime. He was even publicly challenged by Amnesty International U.K.'s head of campaigns Felix Jakens to "inform himself of the human rights situation and be prepared to speak out about Saudi Arabia's abysmal human rights record". Suddenly Joshua has lost his voice. (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/aug/09/anthony-joshua-rematch-andy-ruiz-jr-saudi-arabia-7-december)
If this fight actually does take place there, perhaps the weigh-ins could take place at Riyadh's Deera Square, also known as "Chop-Chop Square", since it is the location of public beheadings. If a fighter misses weight by too much, or fails a drug test, why not just behead him right then and there?
It might even set a record. In a report this July for the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in U.K., human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy wrote of "at least 134 death sentences having been carried out between 1 January and 20 July 2019 alone. Should executions continue at this rate, the 2019 death toll will far exceed all previous recorded totals." (linked in https://aohr.org.uk/en/en-reports/item/10993-a-perverse-and-ominous-enterprise-the-death-penalty-and-illegal-executions-in-saudi-arabia.html)
This land of death is certainly a perfect place for boxing, isn't it?
If someone does go to this fight if it actually takes place in Saudi Arabia, whether to work or as a fan, note the various dress code restrictions listed by the British government, including: "Women should wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes as well as a full length cloak (abaya) and a headscarf. Men should not wear shorts in public." And of course, there is no alcohol, same-sex sexual relations, transgender people, porn, or even binoculars allowed. Read more at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/saudi-arabia/local-laws-and-customs.
Here are a few excerpts from a similar list provided to travelers to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. State Department:
"Many areas of life in Saudi Arabia are segregated by sex to ensure that unrelated men and women have no possibility of mingling (a punishable crime) by unmarried men and women."
"Saudi authorities do not permit criticism of Islam or Muslim religious figures, including on social media."
"Public display of non-Islamic religious articles, such as crosses and Bibles, is not permitted."
"Saudi law does not prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, and there is no legislation requiring public accessibility."
"Married women, including non-Saudis, require their husband's permission to depart the country, while unmarried women and children require the permission of their father or male guardian."
"Christmas and other holiday decorations, fashion magazines, and 'suggestive' videos may be confiscated and the owner subject to penalties and fines."
"Electronic devices may be subject to inspection upon entry or exit."(https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/SaudiArabia.html)
A lovely place to take a vacation and see a boxing match, isn't it?
At the August 12 news conference in London which formally announced the location and date of this fight, Eddie Hearn boasted that it "could change boxing forever". On the surface he meant that a new lucrative source of income for boxing was opening up in Saudi Arabia, to challenge the existing centers of boxing in places like the U.K. and U.S. Perhaps inadvertently, this can be taken to mean that boxing regulation, as bad and corrupt as it is, would be thrown back a century or more by staging more major fights in countries with medieval-era regimes.
Even the tagline for this fight sucks. It is named "Clash on the Dunes", which sounds like what you often get from a bad Google translation.
Since no one has asked me, and with all these problems that have many thinking that this fight will not take place in Saudi Arabia, here is my suggestion for naming the fight, as the title of this article suggests: "Assholery in Arabia". At least that has alliteration, adding at least one poetic touch and one sense of realism about an event that just may backfire on all those sons of monarchs who are planning on profiting from it.