Tyson Fury predicted that Saudi Arabia will become the centre of the sporting universe as he came face to face with Francis Ngannou to promote their fight in Riyadh.
Despite the growing clamour for the WBC heavyweight champion to fight Oleksandr Usyk, the champion of the IBF, WBA and WBO, Fury, 35 and at his peak, is fighting a mixed martial artist making his professional boxing debut.
There is little question that those involved – hall-of-fame promoters Frank Warren and Bob Arum among them – have been tempted to the Middle East by the many millions on offer. It is those millions that have already brought two world heavyweight title fights – between Usyk and Anthony Joshua and between Joshua and Andy Ruiz – to the same country, and that are increasingly tempting already highly paid footballers away from La Liga and the Premier League.
It has also long been widely accepted that if the undisputed heavyweight title fight between Fury and Usyk takes place it will also be in Saudi Arabia – the richest fights have typically been staged in Las Vegas – and there remains hope that Joshua and Deontay Wilder will also agree terms to fight there, potentially on the same bill.
Fury was in 2019 involved in a WWE contest in the same location, and at the press conference to discuss next month’s fight, while looking considerably above his fighting weight, said: “[It’s a] colossal, colossal event. You’ve got me and Francis Ngannou here. Everyone said he was an idiot walking away from the UFC, and now he’s a genius – the guy’s about to make $10m.
“It’s a very special event for me, and a very special time in sports, where a powerhouse like Saudi Arabia are coming in. They’re taking over the game; they’re taking over football; boxing; whatever you want.
“Within five years, 10 years, they’re going to be the powerhouse of all sports. All of the big sporting events will be in Saudi Arabia somewhere. I’ve topped bills in Vegas, London – all over the place. You name it, I’ve done it, and now I get to do the world’s biggest stage.
“I’m absolutely honoured to be fighting Francis – he’s going to be very, very good. Fighting man; you can see he’s massive; he’s in shape. He’s going to be a real challenge.”
Fury is five weeks into a 12-week training camp for a fight with Ngannou at the same time that Cristiano Ronaldo, who remains the world’s most marketable footballer, is representing Al Nassr, Newcastle United are owned by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, and Mo Salah, of Liverpool and one of the most admired players in the Premier League, is reportedly the subject of interest from Al-Ittihad that could lead to a world-record bid.
Formula One grands prix – another sport with a rich history that can be bought – have also been staged in Saudi Arabia, and golf's reputation continues to be harmed by the LIV Golf Tour. Regardless of its reputation for consistently violating human rights, the millions on offer in Saudi Arabia are more sought after than ever, suggesting that Fury – though assisting with the propaganda those funding his fight with the 37-year-old Ngannou were already encouraging – could yet be proved right.
Mike Tyson, perhaps fittingly, will be another of those present in Riyadh next month, owing to his cynical involvement in Ngannou’s preparations to make the transition from mixed martial arts.
“Mike Tyson’s doing a job for Francis,” Fury continued. “He’s now a boxing trainer – fair play to him. It’s surreal for me – imagine a new-born baby being named after a boxing champion. You’re named after him; you become world heavyweight champion, and the guy you’re named after is training the guy [you’re fighting next].
“I’m in a dream. I’m named after him and I’m in the opposite corner to him 30 years later. It’s crazy.”
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