Ruiz vs Joshua 2: Eddie Hearn explains how 2019’s biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia | Boxing | Sport

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Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019


Surrounded by the lavishes of life in Monaco, an hour away from tuxedo time at the famous Monte Carlo Casino, Anthony Joshua‘s long-time promoter Eddie Hearn shares that in just a few days time, he’ll have butterflies the size of eagles flying around in his stomach.

“I’m really nervous, but really excited,” he tells Express Sport. “But that’s always the sign of a massive fight. The messages from fans I get saying ‘I’m sh****g myself’.”

Hearn, of course, is talking about Joshua’s gargantuan world heavyweight title rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr, who just six months ago dropped the jaws of boxing fans with a ruthless seven-round stoppage victory over AJ at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Mere moments after referee Mike Griffin waved the bout off, Hearn squirmed his way into the ring to let everybody watching know the contractually-obligated rematch clause would be activated immediately – and the sequel would take place in the UK.

So how are we here? On fight week, a few days out from Joshua’s chance at redemption and his attempt at taking back the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world heavyweight titles, the world’s media and riches have assembled in the small north-western Riyadh town of Diriyah to chronicle the spectacular showing.

JUST IN: Ruiz vs Joshua 2 date and UK start time: When does Saudi Arabia boxing clash get underway?

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019’s biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia (Image: GETTY)

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019's biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019’s biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia (Image: GETTY)

Hearn, sat comfortably in an outdoor restaurant at the Monte Carlo Bay hotel, where just metres down the round he’ll be promoting Radzhab Butaev’s WBA ‘Regular’ world title clash with Alexander Besputin, begins to ponder just why things have worked out like they have over the last few months.

He adds: “It’s amazing how life works out because we were getting frozen out by Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury and PBC [Al Haymon’s promotional company] and, although I had a clear plan for AJ, we hit a period where we were getting frustrated and he was getting unwarranted heat.

“We got a load of stick for fighting Ruiz and we’d have got a load of stick for fighting Kubrat Pulev after, the IBF mandatory, while Fury and Wilder were going to fight again.

“Now, we’re days out from the biggest fight of the year, the biggest heavyweight fight of the decade, the biggest pay day of AJ’s career even though he just lost, and the opportunity to become a two-time world heavyweight champion.

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“He will be the biggest global star in the sport. The script is all over the place but he’s one win away from being in such a golden position again.”

Express Sport caught up with Hearn in July where he said that Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, which Joshua has sold out twice before, and Madison Square Garden, were the frontrunners to host the rematch.

But just as Ruiz showed the power of social media back in April when he begged Hearn over Instagram direct message for a shot at Joshua, following the news that original opponent Jarrell Miller was out of the fight due to the failing of three drug tests, a spokesman for Saudi’s Prince Khalid did the exact same.

“We’d decided it was going to be in Cardiff,” Hearn says. “We had a solid contract and we were prepared to force it but Ruiz had his doubts and the money for a UK fight wasn’t there to satisfy him.

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019's biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019’s biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia (Image: GETTY)

“And then I get an Instagram DM from someone saying ‘could you speak to Prince Khalid about staging the Joshua fight in Saudi’ … bearing in mind we’ve had these approaches before, for fights like Amir Khan vs Kell Brook, Joshua vs Wilder, [Oleksandr] Usyk fights.

“We’ve signed contracts [in the past], we’ve signed escrow agreements, we’ve waited for money and it’s not come and in the end I ignored the guy. Then I got an email saying ‘I’ve sent you a message on Instagram, would you please speak to Khalid’.

“So I got the number, phoned him, knowing I’d decided on Cardiff, and I was quite abrupt with him, I wasn’t in the mood and we didn’t have time to f**k around. So I said ‘we’ve been here before, I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s no time to waste’.”

But the Saudis, who hosted Amir Khan’s summer clash with Billy Dib and the World Boxing Super Series final between Callum Smith and George Groves over a year ago, wouldn’t budge.

He will be the biggest global star in the sport. He’s one win away from being in such a golden position.

Eddie Hearn

Hearn explains: “He asked ‘how much money’ and I said ‘the money to stage a Middle East fight is X’ and he said to me ‘we’d like to do it’. I sent a contract and said ‘there can’t be any changes, it’s the contract’. It came back with about 20 changes.

“I phoned him back and said ‘I don’t want to fall out with you, let’s talk next year or later this year about another fight’ but they were adamant they wanted the fight. So they signed the contract.”

But more worry came as the deposit for the reported £31million site fee, failed to drop in Hearn’s escrow account. He says: “Then we entered a period where a deposit had to come in, he said he’d sent the money but I checked our bank and the money never came. Now I’m phoning up saying ‘I haven’t got time to waste you haven’t sent it! We’re going to Cardiff!’

But then the penny, one would assume millions of them, dropped.

“I put the phone down and 10 minutes later it’s the bank on the phone… ‘the money’s in’. Straight away I’m on the phone to the prince again ‘hello mate! How are you? We’ve got the money!’” Hearn laughed.

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019's biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019’s biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia (Image: GETTY)

“I then asked Ruiz whether he preferred the UK or Saudi and he said Saudi and that enabled me to play with some money and make sure everybody was happy.

“They told me they want Saudi to be the home of boxing, the home of all the mega-fights and with the money they have they can do that. Then they started telling me about venues and plans, they showed me presentations… everything has been unbelievable so far. This is the opportunity to showcase themselves.”

Joshua admittedly felt the pressure of having to out-perform Deontay Wilder, who destroyed Dominic Breazeale in a round two weeks before AJ’s fight with Ruiz, back on that infamous night in June.

But Hearn now insists things are different, stating that Joshua knows the danger that Ruiz poses, while the thought of fighting Wilder or Fury will be rendered completely moot if he can’t dethrone his Mexican rival.

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019's biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia

Inside the making of Ruiz vs Joshua 2 and how 2019’s biggest fight landed in Saudi Arabia (Image: GETTY)

He explained: “He doesn’t care about Wilder or Fury now, whereas he definitely did before the first fight. He wanted to put the grandstand finish on. But this is the first time since the Joseph Parker fight where he’s not thinking about anyone else.

“Since Parker it’s been ‘box Wilder, box Wilder’ and when he knocked out Breazeale, he felt like he needed to produce a big finish in America. AJ sat down with Stephen A Smith and Max Kellerman at ESPN before the Ruiz fight and the whole segment was about Wilder.

“No-one took Ruiz seriously, not the media, not the fans and AJ was just thinking knock out, get the Wilder fight. But not now.”



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