By The Associated Press
Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua began the promotional tour for their world heavyweight title rematch in Saudi Arabia with a news conference in Diriyah that turned out in part to be a PR exercise for the kingdom.
Groups like Amnesty International have raised concerns over the decision to stage the Dec. 7 fight in Saudi Arabia in light of its human rights record, saying the kingdom will use one of sport’s biggest events to help cleanse its image.
Before the fighters spoke, Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, used the news conference to promote Saudi’s Vision 2030 — a blueprint advanced by the royal to wean the kingdom off its reliance on oil.
Joshua, who lost his IBF, WBA and WBO belts in a surprising loss to Ruiz Jr. in New York in June, said it was a “blessing to be in Saudi Arabia” and that he never thought he would fight outside his native Britain or the United States.
Joshua said he was “glad the people here are supporting boxing.”
Ruiz Jr. spoke of his determination to retain his titles because he didn’t “want to have 15 mins of fame. I want it to last.”
The two boxers smiled at each other as they faced off for cameras.
Further news conferences are planned in New York on Thursday and London on Friday.
The first heavyweight title fight held in the Middle East will take place despite an outcry over the brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year. Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement by the crown prince but its own investigation acknowledged the operation was planned by two of the prince’s top aides.