Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight championship rematch with Ukrainian war hero Oleksandr Usyk is set to be staged in Saudi Arabia at the end of June.
A mega-million-dollars deal to move Joshua’s bid to regain his WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO titles away from London was reached in principal at Middle East time last night, with June 25 earmarked as the most likely date.
Agreement came as the Formula 1 circus was in the last stages of packing up to move out of Jeddah after Sunday’s Grand Prix went ahead despite a massive rocket attack on a Saudi oil installation just 12 miles from the track.
Joshua fought there in December 2019, in a similar rematch against Andy Ruiz who had inflicted AJ’s first defeat and first loss of his titles. The return clash with Usyk had looked to be heading back to London, at either the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where AJ was thrashed in their first fight, or Wembley Stadium.
But Saudi money has spoken again. This time more extravagantly than ever when the Kingdom turns to sport to help its image building in the face of human rights controversies.
The site fee is understood to be ‘more than double’ the $50 million (£38.2 million) the ruling Sheikhs shelled out for Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and Co to risk driving under the blazing, smoking shadow of that terrorist attack. Probably $120 million (£91.7 million) this time, a third more than the $80 million (£61 million) they paid for Joshua-Ruiz II.
Joshua banked the bulk of that purse but Usyk, as the reigning champion, will claim at least parity and probably more than 50 percent giving the extreme circumstances under which he has been living for more than a month.
Few will begrudge such a bonanza to a man who enlisted in the Kyiv Territorial Defence the moment Russia invaded his homeland.
Usyk agonised over leaving his comrades in the front line after being given an exemption from the Ukraine government’s prohibition on men of fighting age leaving the country,
But Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko – himself a former two-time world heavyweight champion who, along with his boxing brother Wladimir, has taken up arms – assured him: ‘You will do more for us by using this platform to campaign for Ukraine to millions around the world than you would by continuing to carry a machine gun here.’
When Joshua invoked a rematch clause in the contract for the first Usyk fight, despite suffering a comprehensive points defeat that almost ended in a knock-out, the return was originally scheduled for London next month.
Usyk’s involvement in the war raised serious doubts as to whether it could happen at all this year but the former undisputed world cruiserweight champion extricated himself from Ukraine late last week.
He has insisted on a training camp lasting more than two months in order to recover from the rigours of war and reach full boxing fitness.
That and a number of conflicting events in the UK in the first half of June – by no means least the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations – have pushed the new date back to the end of that month.
Joshua had been hoping for huge, uplifting support from a London stadium crowd but he is understood to have ratified the Saudi switch in realisation that there would be now huge sympathy here for a Ukrainian.
This is still a fight Joshua can hardly afford to lose at this stage of his garlanded career.
Assuming Tyson Fury retains his WBC world title by defeating Dillian Whyte at Wembley on April 23, the winner between Joshua and Usyk will go on to another mammoth pay-day later this year in a super-fight against the Gypsy King to find the first undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis.
Coincidentally, June 25 is Armed Forces Day in the UK. Make of that as an omen whatever you wish.
Source: Daily Mail