Ever since Andy Ruiz Jr shocked the boxing world on June 1st with his astonishing 7th round knockout of Anthony Joshua, fans have been waiting for the rematch to see if he can repeat his win or to see Joshua gain revenge and become a two-time heavyweight champion. By exercising the rematch clause so quickly after his defeat, Joshua set in motion a series of events that should have led to a speedy announcement of the date and venue for the return match. But here we are, fast approaching 12 weeks since that spectacular Saturday night at Madison Square Garden in June, more confused than ever.
Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing made the announcement on Monday (12th August) that the return fight would be staged in Diriyah, Saudia Arabia on December 7th much to the dislike of some fans who wish to attend but think it is either too expensive or too difficult to travel to.
Human rights groups have been quick to demand that Joshua learn more about the strict laws imposed by the Saudi's regarding the rights of women, Saudi intervention in Yemen, and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and then refuse to take part in the fight.
The final of the WBSS (World Boxing Super Series) Super-middleweights between Callum Smith and George Groves took place at the King Abdullah Sports City arena in the capital Riyadh in September 2018. The event was a success and drew very little criticism if any. Amir Khan's match with Billy Dibb, the former IBF featherweight champion went ahead a month ago without any problems and yet, the moment Matchroom announced the Joshua/Ruiz rematch certain groups came out attempting to force Joshua to exert political pressure on the Saudi's to reform their laws.
Recently, Ruiz Jr has maintained Twitter silence. Beforehand the California based heavyweight champion was consistently on twitter showing how his and his family's lives have changed since earning the $5m dollar purse that came with the June fight. He also let it be known that he had no intention of fighting the rematch anywhere in the United Kingdom even though he signed a rematch clause that gave Joshua the right to make that decision. The same clause states that Ruiz could only be paid a maximum of $9m for his purse for any rematch if he won the June 1st fight.
Many Ruiz Jr fans believe that he has the right to the lion's share of the income from the fight and that he should dictate where and when the fight takes place seeing as he holds the belts, but of course, they are not looking at the bigger picture, he signed a legally binding contract to fight the rematch where and when Joshua chose. He signed that contract knowing these things because he had never earned a purse near one-fifth of the one he received for June 1st. He also knew that should he win he could increase his 2019 earnings from the $5m plus whatever Premier Boxing Champions paid him for his April scheduled 10 rounder against Alexander Dimitrenko, to $14m + Dimitrenko.
So why are we suddenly seeing a different side to Andy Ruiz Jr? Or are we? More likely, what we are seeing is the money men scrabbling over their grasp on world heavyweight boxing. Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn has steadily built up a large stable of heavyweight talent, Joshua, Whyte, Usyk, Parker, Chisora, Hughie Fury, Povetkin, Hrgovic, Hunter, Bakole and probably a few I've forgotten. Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) top man Al Haymon has links to Deontay Wilder, and a contract with Ruiz Jr, not the nearly endless list that Hearn controls but the only two to currently hold world titles.
So, what would be the best scenario for Al Haymon? Ruiz Jr vs Deontay Wilder for all the belts would earn a lot less that Joshua vs Ruiz Jr II but would provide the fans with the first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis who retired in 2005, it would also keep control with Haymon. Because of the Joshua rematch clause, Ruiz is contractually bound to fight AJ for a second time so could it be that we are going to see PBC and Matchroom in court fighting over the rematch clause. Whoever won that case would control the future of heavyweight boxing, ironically using rematch clauses. Worse still, will Ruiz be stripped for not defending against Joshua? Then we go back to 4 separate champions once again.
Saudi Arabi is on Level 2 of the US travel advisory list so Haymon can probably use that as a starting point for court action. The reported $40m site fee that the Saudi's are paying Matchroom for bringing the fight to their country might also be a bone of contention, although PBC also takes hefty site fees from Las Vegas casino's and other venues, so they might not want to use that one.
The rights and wrongs of who takes what percentage of the purse money will rage forever. In a perfect world, every fight would be a 50/50 split, but of course, if you are the boxer that sells 10,000 tickets and your opponent struggles to only get his mother to attend, you will earn more money, how can anyone argue with those economics? IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington used to drive around between working and training, selling tickets for his fights, should he have split that money with his opponent?
This argument was going on between Joshua and Wilder for a few years until Mr Ruiz Jr ended it abruptly. Wilder would defend his WBC title in front of fewer than 10,000 people and get paid $1m - $2m. Joshua meanwhile, was seating 78,000 at Cardiff and 90,000 against Klitschko at Wembley and earning purses in the region of $15m - $20m. Wilder's argument was that if they fought and the fight drew $100m in revenue, he should get 50% as a reigning heavyweight champion. Personally, I wish he had got that and the fight had taken place, but the economics of any business deal that sees one side as attracting significantly more money than the other means that the major draw earns the lion's share. Boxing is a sport to the fans, but to the boxers, managers, promoters, and Tv companies it is a business. Sentiment only comes into it for boxing fans that see a good guy like Ruiz win the golden ticket and then start rooting for him.
Al Haymon is a shrewd man, he doesn't make too many mistakes and although he is officially a boxing manager and advisor only, he founded Premier Boxing Champions, a company that does promote high profile boxing shows. Coincidentally enough, Haymon was brought up in Cleveland, Ohio, the same city that another of boxing's most successful promoters, Don King came from. However, unlike King's street education, Haymon studied economics at Harvard University so he knows how to crunch the numbers, just by different methods to King.
Did Hearn make the biggest mistake of his and Joshua's career when he signed Ruiz Jr, a PBC promoted fighter, to fight on June 1st? He had already signed former USA Olympian Michael Hunter who was willing and able to take the fight, to a Matchroom promotional contract. Has he inadvertently allowed Haymon an even larger foothold in the division than he already held through his agreement with Wilder?
All that boxing fans want is to see the fight happen, Joshua vs Ruiz Jr 2, not Haymon vs Hearn I mean.