12:06 PM ET
Dan RafaelESPN Senior Writer
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
Before unified heavyweight world titleholder Andy Ruiz Jr. and former titlist Anthony Joshua fight in the ring in their much-anticipated rematch, there apparently will be a fight over where the bout will take place.
Ruiz was vocal about not wanting to have the rematch on Joshua’s turf in the United Kingdom when the likely site was going to be Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. But when Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced last Friday that the bout would take place on Dec. 14 in a soon-to-be-constructed outdoor stadium in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia, where the government is backing a site fee worth tens of millions of dollars, Ruiz also was not pleased.
He wants the fight to take place in the United States or Mexico, even though contractually he has no say on the matter.
“I know everyone is talking about the fight and all that,” Ruiz said on Tuesday in a live Instagram chat. “But we got the real news coming soon and the fight is gonna happen soon.”
In answering fan questions, Ruiz later said, “AJ got the rematch, yes we do got the rematch. But it’s gonna be on my terms. We’re gonna bring it back here in the United States.”
That notion would fly in the face of Hearn’s announcement on Friday and subsequent news conference in London on Monday when he appeared with Omar Khalil, the managing partner of Skill Challenge Entertainment, the company that spearheaded the Saudi Arabian effort to land the fight, and discussed a variety of aspects of the fight taking place in Saudi Arabia.
Hearn reiterated that the site will be Diriyah.
“Absolutely it will,” Hearn told ESPN on Wednesday. “We have been in constant contact with Ruiz’s promoter (Tom Brown of TGB Promotions) and team about the rematch. Together we have written to all the governing bodies to confirm the date and location of the bout and the press conference will take place at the beginning of September.”
Hearn said there will be a kickoff news conference in Saudi Arabia followed by stops in London and New York.
On June 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York, Ruiz (33-1, 22 KOs), 29, of Imperial, California, survived a third-round knockdown to drop Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs), 29, of England, twice later in the third round and scored two more knockdowns in the seventh round to score a seventh-round knockout. It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history as Ruiz claimed three major heavyweight titles from Joshua and became the first fighter of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight world title.
Ruiz had taken the bout on only a few weeks’ notice, personally messaging Hearn in an effort to land the bout after New York contender Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller was dropped after testing positive in four random drug tests.
As is typical in boxing, when a non-mandatory challenger receives a title shot, he almost always has to agree to a rematch clause and pre-determined terms for that rematch in the event that he wins. So, in his initial agreement, Ruiz’s purse for a potential rematch in case he won was already specified — around $9 million, according to sources — as was the acknowledgement that Joshua’s side would control the event, meaning the site, the date, the location, any broadcast deals, etc.
Hearn has said that Ruiz’s original contract for the first fight indeed specified that Joshua’s side would control the site of the rematch.
Ruiz could certainly refuse to fight, but not only would he be giving up his biggest payday — by far — he would also face litigation that, if previous similar case results are taken into account, would mean the likelihood that he would be enjoined from fighting for a lengthy period of time unless he fights Joshua next. If Ruiz still decided to sit out, he almost certainly would be stripped of his titles over time due to inactivity.
More likely, Ruiz’s team is angling just to get better terms for the rematch, not an uncommon thing in boxing when there is so much money involved. Ruiz-Joshua II is probably worth nine figures overall.
“AJ, he’s scared. Hell yeah, why do you think he’s over there, trying to make the fight in Saudi Arabia,” Ruiz said in his Instagram video. “Look, United States of America wants to… never mind, I can’t say nothing. But the fight is gonna happen soon.”
Brown could not be reached for comment.