George Groves talks to Umbreen Khan about fighting in Saudi Arabia and the Andy Ruiz vs Anthony Joshua rematch heading there
When it relates to fighting at the top level in Saudi Arabia, George Groves was something of a pioneer. He of course headed out to Jeddah for the World Boxing Super Series 168lbs final against Callum Smith back in September last year. Since then, Amir Khan has met Billy Dib there and the Andy Ruiz vs Anthony Joshua rematch will take place in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, in December. Despite the region’s growing popularity among promoters, Groves remains unconvinced it is the right place for boxing at the highest echelon.
“There were two Brits fighting for the Ring Magazine belt, it should have been in the UK, do you know what I mean?” he said regarding the WBSS final. “It would have got such huge exposure and it would really give fans a genuine opportunity to come. They couldn’t come to our fight because tickets just didn’t go on sale, so you couldn’t get a visa. Sometimes there are fights that are a little bit bigger and they just end up in random locations. But this Saudi, Joshua-Ruiz rematch is a real shame. I think back in New York, Vegas, UK is where it should have been so we have to wait and see. As long as the fight lives up to it, people will forget.
“I didn’t really enjoy it out there, I would have much rather it had been made in the UK. I didn’t know anyone that had been to Saudi Arabia so it was hard to hear anything first hand. You hear all these stories and they’re very strict on certain things that you might take for granted. Once we got through customs, people were lovely, the facilities were very good, I did not expect that. The food was better than I expected, we were catered for which was great. The atmosphere on fight night - there were a lot of people in the crowd but they weren’t boxing fans so there was something a little bit different, a little bit odd. By that point I think I was ready to come home which ain’t ideal because you’ve still got to fight.”
Despite not entirely approving of the location, Groves is excited by the fight itself. He, like most observers, believe Joshua was not fully focused for the first fight in June, in which he lost his unified world heavyweight titles to an inspired Ruiz, but is not certain the Watford man can gain redemption this winter.
“He just wasn’t switched on, he wasn’t at the races,” Groves opines on Joshua vs Ruiz 1. “He was just concentrating on the Deontay Wilder situation, the Tyson Fury situation. He wasn’t switched on for Ruiz, he wasn’t up for it. He didn’t see anything to gain from beating Ruiz, though he was probably getting paid good money. He probably just thought it was a foregone conclusion, it doesn’t look like he had much to offer really, he dropped him and that’s it, he walked in, got caught and then recovered. Now it’s a real fight, now the pressure is on, now he’s got to step up and it’s interesting.
“I think Joshua will win the rematch convincingly if he’s got his head in the game but I don’t know him particularly well, I’m not a part of his training team or camp. He seems a bit agitated at the moment and the fact that now it’s in Saudi Arabia, he’s given up that home advantage which would have been key. I’m sure his boxing team would have been advising him to take the home advantage. Maybe somebody in his commercial team might have even advised him to go to the US, someone else must have been advising him to go to Saudi, so he’s gone to Saudi. He stepped out and said it’s a neutral venue.”