As Saudi Arabia Enters U.S. Market, Could It Convince Canelo To Fight Benavidez?

April 30, 2024
4 weeks
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Saudi Arabia has not been shy about its ambitions to become a major player in elite-level boxing.

The oil-rich kingdom has been full steam ahead in recent years with a succession of blockbuster bouts staged in Riyadh, the capital. Anthony Joshua, undoubtedly one of the biggest draws in the sport, has fought in Saudi four times including two world title bouts.

Tyson Fury, the WBC and lineal heavyweight champion, made his debut there last October in a lucrative crossover clash with MMA star Francis Ngannou. The Gypsy King will return to the Middle East in just a few weeks for his historic undisputed bout with Oleksandr Usyk, who will also be making his second appearance in Saudi on May 18.

Just two weeks after that, another undisputed title fight will take place in Riyadh; on June 1, Artur Beterbiev, the unified light-heavyweight champion, will face WBA champion Dimitry Bivol to decide the king at 175lbs.

That will headline a unique team event that will pit five of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing fighters up against five from Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions stable. Among the fighters participating are Deontay Wilder, Zhilei Zhang, Filip Hrgovic, and Daniel Dubois.

It seems nothing is off limits when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s attempts to transform itself into a global boxing capital.

Saudi Arabia Takes First Steps In US Boxing

Yet, the Arab country is refusing to be constrained to its own borders when it comes to its boxing takeover. Last week it was announced that Riyadh Season – the annual months-long entertainment festival in Saudi – had put together a card in Los Angeles. It’s been hailed as arguably the strongest card ever seen in United States boxing.

Headlined by welterweight king Terence Crawford’s return to the ring as he makes his 154lbs debut against WBA world champion Israil Madrimov, the co-main event will see former middleweight world champion Tim Tszyu take on the unbeaten Vergil Ortiz Jr.

Before that, WBA super-lightweight world champion Isaac Cruz makes his first title defense against Jose ‘Rayo’ Valenzuela, and former unified heavyweight world champion Andy Ruiz takes on Jarrell Miller.

Andy Cruz, arguably the biggest prospect in all of pro boxing, continues his rise up the ranks against Antonio Moran, while David Morrell takes on Radivoje Kalajdzic.

With Saudi Arabia now embedding itself into boxing on American soil, it raises a question: how come the biggest name in the sport is yet to work with Turki AlShaikh, Saudi’s boxing supremo?

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez contests his first fight of 2024 against unbeaten contender Jaime Munguia in Las Vegas this Saturday. It’s an intriguing bout for the Mexican superstar, who is making the fourth defense of his undisputed super-middleweight titles.

Canelo v Benavidez The Fight All Fans Want

It certainly represents a step up in challenge compared to Canelo’s past three fights, which left fans underwhelmed; unexciting points wins over a past-his-prime Gennady Golovkin, a game but limited John Ryder, and a Jermell Charlo who refused to engage hardly set pulses racing.

Yet, for a fighter who has been involved in some of the best match-ups of this generation, the bout with Munguia falls short of the fight every fan on the planet wants to see.

The WBC’s interim super-middleweight champion David Benavidez has barely rested in his attempts to secure a fight with Canelo, consistently taunting Alvarez through social media and in interviews.

Unfortunately for Benavidez and the fans, nothing seems to be working; Canelo is patently not interested in fighting the Phoenix native.

“Maybe. Who knows? But he brings nothing to the table for me,” Canelo said when asked about the prospect of fighting Benavidez. “He just brings 25 extra pounds on the night of the fight. That’s it. He has nothing to offer me. I’m the one.”

Canelo then left the door ajar, which would certainly have caught AlShaikh’s attention, when he said: “If a promoter who I work with offers $150 to $200 million, then I’ll fight tomorrow. That’s the only reason I’ll fight with him.”

Canelo Would Fight Benavidez For ‘$200m’

As always with boxing, money talks. It’s how Saudi Arabia has so quickly and seamlessly integrated itself into the sport. If crazy money is on the table, boxers will invariably sign the contract.

Perhaps Canelo has had no interest in fighting in Saudi Arabia, which makes sense. The Mexican is on quite a rigid schedule nowadays, fighting twice per year – once on Cinco de Mayo weekend and again in either September or November.

But with Saudi Arabia now taking its first steps into the boxing scene Stateside, that could open the possibility for Canelo to headline a future Riyadh Season card in the U.S.

That said, for all the money Saudi is pouring into boxing, AlShaikh is expecting cards that move the needle, that capture the excitement of fight fans around the world.

Canelo had been able to do that on his own for much of his career, but as a new generation of stars emerges, he will need a capable dance partner to satisfy the demands of Saudi’s money men.

There is only one fight Saudi Arabia will be willing to pay Alvarez $200 million for – and that is against Benavidez, who after missing out on the fight, will take on Oleksandr Gvozdyk in his light-heavyweight debut on June 15.

If Canelo is serious about taking that fight for that sort of money, then there’s a willing backer ready to provide the finance to make it happen.