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Eddie Hearn talks backlash from Andy Ruiz vs Anthony Joshua 2 announcement

Hearn responds to the poor fan reaction from trying to stage the rematch in Saudi Arabia.

Wil Esco is an assistant editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2014.

In this video interview caught by Fight Hub, Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn responds to the widespread criticism he’s received since announcing that he plans to hold the Andy Ruiz vs. Anthony Joshua rematch in Saudi Arabia...

Hearn on if he’s ever before received such massive criticism like he has for trying to stage Ruiz-Joshua 2 in Saudi Arabia:

“No. I’m going to tell you something that’s probably very controversial: it just means it’s absolutely massive! And bigger, I mean — from a personal point of view, I never really want controversy ‘cause it’s a pain in the ass. But what I can tell you is controversy makes the fight, the event, the talking points so much bigger. It’s not why we did it, by the way [laughs]. But it just shows you that everybody in the world is gonna be watching on December 7th in Saudi Arabia, and that’s their chance to showcase their country, there city, to their global audience to promote, or to showcase change, if you like.

“So, for me, I try to keep it much more simple to say ‘I’m a sportsman.’ I’m following the footsteps of WWE, European Tour, Formula 1, World Boxing Super Series, Amir Khan. I mean, when the World Boxing Super Series went there for their final with Groves against Smith, did you hear any criticism, did you hear any objections? No. [I] appreciate that this is a bigger fight but this is really the Matchroom and Eddie Hearn thing, where it’s like ‘let’s just jump on Eddie and give him a kick in the nuts.’ And to be honest with you, I quite enjoy it. So it’s not really a problem for me.

[Editor’s Note: At least now we know why Hearn really signed Billy Joe Saunders].

“But if it wasn’t me doing it, every promoter in the world has been trying their utmost hardest, trying to stage a fight in Saudi Arabia, and that region. I was the first one to do it. So I’m the trailblazer, I’m the one who’s gonna get the pasting and they’re walking after me like ‘well Eddie Hearn’s done it, it’s fine,’ they won’t get any stick. That’s how it works, it comes with the territory so, roll on December 7th.”

On if there are any logistical worries about the stadium they’ll be building for the fight:

“You’re dealing with people who make the decisions themselves. Do you understand? So when you talk about visas, that’s a decision made by the tournament organizers, effectively. Do you know what I mean? So it’s not we have to go and lobby the government — no, this is how we’re doing this event to promote growth in Saudi Arabia and us as a entertainment and sports destination. So this is what we’re doing. Visas, when you buy a ticket, they’re automatically issued.

“The stadium — money is not a problem for their investment in what they’re doing. So yes, if they could run out of money and build a stadium and then halfway through say ‘we don’t have any money left’, we wouldn’t even be there. But we know the vision, we know the budget, we’ve seen the plans, we know the structure. And this venue now, it’s not just about our event, there’s a whole season. I got asked a question earlier like ‘in New York there’s stuff to do during the week but in Saudi there’s nothing to do.’ I’m like ‘well, have you been?’ It’s like ‘no.’

‘What do you mean there’s nothing to do?! Do you think there’s no restaurants, no entertainment, there’s no music concerts, there’s no hotels, there’s no like sights to see?’...Wait to see what they’re putting around this event for fans. Huge concerts, like build-up, just for the fight week...

“This is their chance. And knowing about the detemination of these people, and the money behind these people, when they produce an event like this that will be seen by a global audience, they will pull out all the stops to make everybody go ‘That was incredible!’. So I’m really confident and comfortable. In fact, much more comfortable from a logistical point of view than I would be in the U.K., or the U.S., in terms of a new stadium, in terms of visas, all this sort of stuff — much more comfortable.

On Saudi Arabia’s strict laws prohibiting fans from ‘having a good time’, so to speak:

“People need to be educated. Not just about what is possible, but what isn’t possible as well. Of course, you can’t drink in Saudi Arabia. That’s something that most people are aware of. I’ve got one question from a journalist yesterday about ‘what have you got to say about the fact you can’t drink in Saudi Arabia?’ Well, that’s religion, culture, whatever you want to call it. That’s the rule, you know? So if you wanna get drunk, you can’t go to Saudi Arabia. So that’s life.

“But what you can do is, you can stay at a top hotel, you can enjoy music festivals, you can enjoy other sporting events, you can enjoy sightseeing, you can see great hotels. So we’ve got to educate on that side, but also let people understand their culture, because they wanna know what they can and can’t do. You know, you haven’t got to walk around, hide in your room in silence, but you have got to respect their culture like any country that you go to.

“Every country has got their good and bad points. You know, unfortunately Saudi has got a bigger history of bad points in some respects. But that’s what they’re trying to change. So what do you do? Do you let them embrace that change or you just say ‘no, you can’t change. So, again, I don’t want to get too political but from everything that I’ve been told and I’ve seen, the investment is there. Not just to showcase Saudi but also for the people of Saudi, for the 40 million population, 70% under the age of 24. They love sport. They love boxing! So for me it was a no-brainer.”

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