By Paul Magno | December 02, 2019

Days ago, as the finishing touches were being put on the custom-built 15,000-seat Diriyah Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-- host of the Andy Ruiz-Anthony Joshua world heavyweight title rematch this coming Saturday-- dissident Saudi journalists and writers began disappearing.

In a wave of government arrests, ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, several known voices of dissent were swept off the streets and away from the public eye. 

It was a move reminiscent of Brazil’s decision to forcibly remove and “make disappear” their large homeless population prior to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. With the world about to tune in, it doesn’t look good for dirty laundry to be exposed to all the white linen. 

But it’s not like Saudi Arabia to care about such stuff, even under the rule of bin Salman, who fancies himself a liberator and reformist of sorts for allowing women to drive. So far this year, there have been over 134 public executions—beheadings, crucifixions, heads-on-spikes-in-public-squares brutality. 37 of them happened on just one day this past April and included a handful of teens. Vanishing dissident journalists wouldn’t exactly be too unbelievable under this regime. 

It’s up for debate whether the arrests had anything to do with the upcoming high-profile heavyweight bout, but it would make sense for the royal family to remove anyone and everyone willing to speak to the incoming foreign press about the dark side of this shiny new Saudi image being crafted via sports event hosting.

Little do bin Salman and his family know that the incoming press, at least the boxing media portion of it, is soft like a baby’s belly with many reportedly getting there on the dime of the network and/or promoter. There could be a beheading INSIDE the ring, between the second and third rounds of the main event, and the Twitter feeds of these “journalists” would still be solely dedicated to “I’m in Saudi Arabia” posts and pics of where they’re seated on press row. 

But this week’s column isn’t about the shitty politics of a shitty human rights-abusing Middle East monarchy or the dodgy, cynical decision to bring a major boxing promotion to a shitty human rights-abusing Middle East monarchy. It’s not even about the shitty media corps invited to holiday and to serve as part of Matchroom Boxing’s/Team Joshua’s public relations team. It’s about all of the general shittiness weighing heavily on, arguably, the most important fight of the year.

One can’t help but hover over the word “lawless” when looking at the undercard for Ruiz-Joshua 2, filled with PEDs cheats (four of the six undercard fighters—Alexander Povetkin, Eric Molina, Dillian Whyte, and Mariusz Wach -- have been popped for dirty blood tests in the not-too-distant past) and curtain-jerk bouts featuring relative novice-level pros. 

There’s also the considerable shade cast on the main event by appointing the awful and money fighter/house fighter-friendly Luis Pabon as the referee.  

The inexperienced and inherently compromised Saudi boxing commission is really the perfect commission with which to facilitate a screw job, especially with Pabon in place and the not-very-good Canadian Benoit Roussel appointed as the possible tie-breaking judge alongside American Glenn Feldman and Brit Steve Gray. If Ruiz thinks he’s walking on to an even playing field when he steps into that purpose-built arena in Riyadh, he’s going to be in for a jarring surprise. 

The Clash on the Dunes may play out as something closer to Mad Max than The Rumble in the Jungle. There’s big money in returning the belts to Anthony Joshua—some may say that the worldwide reach of Matchroom Boxing could be riding on Joshua regaining the world titles and picking up where he left off as UK cash cow/superstar-in-the-making.  

Frankly, it doesn’t look good for the incoming Ruiz or his chances of walking away from this fight with anything but a story to tell and a too-small cut of the Saudi-padded big fight blood money. 

The Mexican-American who shook the world with his Upset of the Year TKO of Joshua back on June 1 at Madison Square Garden, will likely have to stop Joshua again to get the win in the return bout. And, while this is something he’s done already, it’s not as easy a second time around with everyone knowing, including Joshua, that it’s something that could actually happen. 

On the other side, Joshua’s path to victory may be as simple as not fucking up this well laid-out set-up, even though he certainly has the ability to win legitimately. The former champ can jab, box, keep his distance, stay upright, and count on either Ruiz fading under the weight of a stacked deck or the judges closing the show with a friendly decision. 

And you know what? This is boxing and there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no commission to force integrity on the event and no media to truly hold feet to the fire should something shady occur. 

Andy Ruiz will have to walk into the ring and single-handedly unfix anything that may have been fixed to his detriment. It’s a lot to ask of anyone-- too much, actually.

A vile, rotten Saudi Arabia just may be the perfect host for what we’re going to see on Saturday.

Got something for Magno? Send it here:

JUNE 05, 2020
JUNE 04, 2020
JUNE 03, 2020
JUNE 02, 2020
JUNE 01, 2020