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Anthony Joshua praises Saudi passion for boxing ahead of biggest fight of his career

JEDDAH: Less than a week away from the biggest fight of the year, dubbed ‘Rage on the Red Sea’, Anthony Joshua opened up about his first visit to Saudi Arabia in 2019 and how he’s ready to ‘put on a show’ for his second fight in the Kingdom: The rematch against Oleksandr Usyk.

At first glance, Joshua’s ambitions are simple.

“Last time here, I became a double champion,” he says, days away from his revenge. “The only goal now is to become three times!”

Scratch the surface a little, though, and the goals of both the combatant and the host nation run much deeper.

The last time Joshua fought here he did so under similar circumstances. He entered the 2019 ‘Clash of the Dunes’ in Diriyah aiming to reclaim the belts he had lost to his opponent a few months earlier, and is doing so again in Jeddah after dropping those same titles to Usyk last year.

Antoine Joshua regained his world heavyweight titles in the 2019 “Clash of the Dunes” in Diriyah.

Joshua then outclassed Andy Ruiz Jr. from start to finish in Diriyah, and the Briton, understandably, remembers the night with real fondness.

“I have great memories of 2019,” he said. “Everything about the event was perfect. From the purpose built stadium, the organization and the hospitality, it was all 10 out of 10. It was a phenomenal event for boxing in general and of course very special for me as I became a double champion.

A seed was planted on December 7, 2019 and boxing in the Kingdom has grown at a rapid pace ever since. There has been a 300% increase in the participation of men and women in Saudi Arabia, the number of boxing gyms in the country has increased from seven to 59, and last December the Saudi Boxing Federation introduced the first-ever women’s boxing championship.

‘Clash of the Dunes’ has left a boxing legacy to build on in Saudi Arabia, which Joshua is immensely proud of and hopes to deepen once again when he takes on Usyk at King Abdullah Sports City on Saturday August 20.

“It’s fantastic that the country has taken the sport to heart,” said Joshua. “I know it’s grown over 300%, lots of facilities have opened since 2019 and the women’s championship was last year. As professional fighters competing on a global scale, it’s fantastic to see the sport grow and inspire a new generation.

Joshua left Saudi Arabia a hero in 2019, having brought the pinnacle of sport to the country for the very first time. The welcome he received as well as the support throughout his stay there marked him.

“I’ve been shown such kindness since I’ve been here,” he explained. “It’s obvious to me that the country has really embraced the sport and it certainly fills me with energy to want to play in front of the fans.”

The 32-year-old will need all the energy he can muster from the Jeddah crowd as he takes on a man widely regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.

Usyk extended his unbeaten career to 19 fights with a unanimous points victory over Joshua, and the 35-year-old Ukrainian is a technical master in the ring. But, as Joshua insists Usyk deserves the respect his accomplishments command, he’s ready to make the most of a rare redemption opportunity.

He said: “Things happen in life, but resilience, mental toughness and consistency will always prevail, so we are still on the right track. I’m focused on the target and the goal and it’s all about performance now. I had to accept defeat as a man and hold myself accountable. I just have to reverse it and move forward.

“We have to give him credit, I respect him for his craft. I am motivated to improve myself. What’s great is that I have a second chance to beat him. You can put me down, but you can’t hold me down.

“My team and I are focused on the goal, learning all the lessons from the last fight and on August 20th I will be entertaining the fans who come to see a huge night of heavyweight boxing.”

The battle dominating the billing at “Rage on the Red Sea” is the obvious draw for fight fans watching both in the stadium and at home on pay-per-view, but the rest of the card will also make history, and is littered with talented, high-stakes fights from start to finish.

The impact of this event on the ongoing transformation of Saudi Arabia through sport will continue the momentum of the incredible response to ‘Clash of the Dunes’.

There’s Saudi fighter Ziyad Al-Maayouf to inspire local fight fans, while Ramla Ali and Crystal Garcia Nova will be the first female boxers to compete in an official international fight in Saudi Arabia. Then there are the lightweight and heavyweight final eliminators between Callum Smith and Mathieu Bauderlique, and Filip Hrgovic against the undefeated Zhilei Zhang, respectively.

Added to this are names such as former two-weight world champion Badou Jack and his opponent Richard Rivera, as well as Daniel Lapin, Jozef Jurko, Andrew Tabiti and Tyrone Spong.

For Joshua, this means only one thing: this event is not to be missed.

“All of the focus is on fight night, and we’re sure to put on a serious show for them,” he said.

“I can’t wait to see everyone at the arena. It’s going to be an incredible night of championship level boxing. For any sports fan, this is not to be missed, it has all the ingredients to go down in boxing history.