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Hearn: Usyk vs. Joshua rematch ‘likely’ for Saudi Arabia

Promoter Eddie Hearn revealed that a site deal for the Oleksandr Usyk vs. Anthony Joshua rematch has been agreed for Saudi Arabia.

Anthony Joshua v Oleksandr Usyk - Heavyweight Title Fight Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

It appears that Saudi Arabia has once again secured one of the biggest boxing bouts of the year.

According to Eddie Hearn, the anticipated rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua is “likely” to take place in the controversial kingdom after a site deal was agreed upon.

The British boxing promoter also noted that fight will likely be pushed back by several week in order to leave enough time to promote the event.

“We have agreed to a deal for the site, and the working date of July 23rd,” Eddie Hearn said on iFL TV. “We are pretty much ready to announce. When you question about whether there will be a delay. If there is you’re talking about two weeks, and it’s for no other reason than time to make sure we can promote the fight in the right way.

“The fight is happening, the fight is agreed in terms of where it will take place and both sides have agreed, both sides have agreed to the deal, both sides have agreed to everything.”

If the Usyk vs. Joshua fight ends up taking place in Saudi, it would be the latest example of how the kingdom is using sports to distract from its well-documented human rights abuses. The tactic is known as sportswashing and it allows dictators to launder their image by investing in prestigious events such as the biggest boxing event of the year.

By 2021, Saudi had already spent at least $1.5 billion on high-profile international sports and entertainment events, including a long-term deal with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), golf, tennis and horse-racing. Earlier this year, the kingdom purchased Premier League team Newcastle United through its public investment fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman.

The strategic investment in sports is part of the kingdom’s ‘Vision 2030’ masterplan that aims to reduce Saudi’s economic dependence on oil. However, the plan also led to a brutal crackdown on dissent, including feminist activists, religious clerics and opposition leaders.

Saudi has also continued to wage war in Yemen, which has led to a humanitarian crisis among the worst in the world, with widespread hunger, disease and attacks on civilians. More than four million people have fled their homes while another 21 million are in need of humanitarian aid and assistance.

Given that Usyk is taking part in the upcoming rematch in part to help raise funds to benefit his besieged Ukrainian homeland, his decision to fight in country currently waging its own war in the Middle East is questionable at best.