SPECIAL NIGHT IN SAUDI
By Frank Warren
OUR SPECTACULAR SOJOURN in Saudi Arabia has now drawn to a conclusion and I cannot truly overstate how much of a breathtaking experience it was and my gratitude goes out to His Excellency Turki Alalshikh and everyone involved in putting together the event to mark the opening of Riyadh Season 2023.
Unless you were out there in person, you cannot perhaps appreciate the sheer scale and magnificent nature of what was delivered to promote the opening and Tyson Fury’s encounter with Francis Ngannou.
To say they pulled out all the stops wouldn’t do it justice by a long chalk.
We are very fortunate as boxing people and fans that the sport will be at the forefront of this vision and movement in Riyadh. The fights you want to see will get made and probably a few you might not expect.
It is going to be a magical ride that will enable boxing to boom like never before.
There are many preconceived ideas and a few misconceptions about Saudi Arabia, so I would encourage you – if you ever get the opportunity – to visit the Kingdom and see for yourself. It is a vibrant environment that has embraced a modern vision, where the people are so warm and welcoming.
It is going to be, if it isn’t well on its way already, an epicentre for major sporting activity and entertainment and it is a country who wants to open its doors for the world to enjoy what it has to offer.
When this cross-combat sport event was first announced many significant media outlets and some not so significant, were so quick to stick the boot in and attempt to trash the event.
It was a mismatch, it was s**t, it signalled a death knell for boxing as we know it. Well, while it might not have been thrill-a-minute, the main event was absolutely compelling and has probably become one of the most talked about fights in history.
Not quite as one-sided as the naysayers insisted it would be!
Let’s get this right. When Tyson didn’t have a mandatory challenge to fulfil, there were two fights that topped his wish list. Oleksandr Usyk or Anthony Joshua.
I am not going to detail the complete Usyk saga again but suffice to say, we all know he signed up with another entity in Saudi in the expectation of getting the fight on in December. So he was out.
Again, I won’t bang on too much, but the last time we made a proposal to Joshua we were politely informed that his roadmap was only going to involve Dillian Whyte – at the time – and then Deontay Wilder, with both being non-title fights.
Strangely enough now, all of a sudden, we are told the Joshua fight is a must-make and he would happily deviate from his best-laid plans. Also, the biggest fight in boxing, we are now told, is Joshua vs Ngannou, a fight to rival the Rumble in the Jungle…
Only last week, Fury vs Ngannou was a joke, an exhibition.
Now I didn’t expect Ngannou to take Tyson to the wire, but I told anyone who would listen that it would be exciting and competitive. Ngannou is an elite athlete who reached the pinnacle of his game in MMA and is a born fighter. He was never going to fold like a pack of cards, as some observers of his own discipline suggested.
I thought it would be a great event – which it was – where Tyson’s rich boxing pedigree would ultimately overwhelm a game challenger. I never, in a million years, expected Ngannou to turn into a switch-hitter!
But there you go, Ngannou has enriched his credentials in the fight game and has prepared the ground for many further lucrative opportunities. Good luck to him.
As for Tyson, as I said in last week’s column, he was stepping into the unknown and had no way of really preparing a game plan. So it wasn’t an easy night’s work after all, but he has got a huge undisputed fight against Usyk to look forward to, which is happening, with an official press conference scheduled for very soon.
Given the scale of what Riyadh Season aims to deliver, we were able to put together a superb undercard with something for everyone. The big fellas on parade certainly put on a show and there was plenty of bang for everyone’s buck, which is always the idea.
Moses Itauma continues to confound at just 18 years old. He was up against a decent 10-1 opponent in Istvan Bernath and the 34-year-old was made to look hapless by young Moses.
We can’t and won’t jump the gun with Moses because, although he might not always agree, what he needs more than anything else is just to continue topping up his experience levels and then he can become a master of his trade.
The British title fight was a banger between Fabio Wardley and David Adeleye. It was the impressive Fabio who got it right on the night with a big stoppage and I see him as a heavyweight with a big future in front of him.
David will come again, no doubt about that. He will take a lot from the experience and improve as he goes along. In this heavyweight business you are always one good win away from another big fight and David will be back in the thick of it soon enough.
So, all in all, the sport of boxing enjoyed a big win on Saturday and was pushed to the forefront of the sporting picture by our friends and colleagues who organise Riyadh Season and I look forward to many more special occasions in the future.