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Duel in the Desert: American Champ Has Not Yet Signed on for Joshua Rematch in Saudi Arabia

WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz has refused to sign a deal for him to fight Britain’s Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia later this year.

The bout is all set to take place in a specially built arena in Diriyah, a town on the outskirts of the capital Riyadh at 11pm local time (8pm GMT), which would mean it viewers watching live in the US would see it in the afternoon, which is not ideal for US TV networks.

​At the weekend Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, said the fight would take place in Saudi Arabia on 7 December and claimed it was a fight that would "change boxing forever".

At a press conference in London on Monday, 12 August, Hearn said: "We have to realise there is a world outside of Cardiff and Madison Square Garden. This event could change boxing forever. You could be seeing a big change in the dynamics of the sport.”

But Ruiz has reportedly been offered only US$9 million for the fight, compared to US$60 million for Joshua.

Considering Ruiz is actually the champion, that may seem a tad unfair.

​A rematch clause was triggered when Ruiz beat Joshua in June in one of the fight game’s biggest shocks.

On social media there has been a huge and negative reaction to the rematch taking place in Saudi Arabia, with most Twitter users claiming Hearn has simply gone for the big bucks rather than choosing a venue which suits boxing fans.

Saudi Arabia has been trying to force its way into boxing in recent years.

​Last month Britain’s Amir Khan fought Australia’s Billy Dib in Jeddah, after a much-hyped fight with India’s Neeraj Goyat fell through after the fighter was injured in a car crash.

Khan was heavily criticised by boxing traditionalists who said he was only taking the fight because of the huge fee the Saudis were offering.

Last year Jeddah also hosted its first world title fight - when Callum Smith beat fellow Briton George Groves.

But Amnesty International has criticised the choice of Jeddah as the fight venue, citing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Alluding to the criticism, Hearn said: "There is time for change there, and they are trying to make that change through sport. People think you can't get into Saudi Arabia, or that women aren't welcome to the show. Men and women are welcome. If you buy a ticket you get an automatic visa, and it's six hours away."

Hearn said: “Look at the events held there before us - Formula One, the European golf tour, the Italian Super Cup, WWE. It will be an iconic moment for boxing."

​The rematch had originally been set to take place in Britain - either in London or Cardiff - but Ruiz reportedly requested a neutral venue.

Hearn claimed the fight could “go down as one of the great fights, alongside the Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manila (which both featured Muhammad Ali.”

But boxing fans on social media seem less than convinced.

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