‘Saudi Or Not At All’: Haye Tells Fans To Embrace Boxing’s New World

February 8, 2024
2 weeks
David Haye

Former two-weight world champion David Haye has told boxing fans to get used to Saudi Arabia’s increasing presence in the sport, insisting that the big fights being held in the wealthy Arab nation would not be happening otherwise.

Since getting actively involved in boxing in the past few years, Saudi Arabia has hosted several high-profile events, particularly in the heavyweight division.

Two-time heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua has fought in Saudi three times and will make it four in March when he takes on former UFC champ Francis Ngannou, who made his professional boxing debut in Riyadh last October against Tyson Fury.

Saudi will also be hosting one of boxing’s most historic fights on May 18 when WBC champion Fury and IBF, WBA, and WBO title holder Oleksandr Usyk contest the first undisputed heavyweight title fight of the four-belt era. That fight was initially scheduled for February 17 before Fury suffered a “freak cut” above his eye in sparring.

Saudi’s involvement in boxing, led by Saudi Arabia’s Chairman of General Authority for Entertainment Turki Alalshikh, is only going to keep growing. Alalshikh has already laid out ambitious plans for 2024 and beyond, and there is no sign of things slowing down.

Haye, one of the greatest cruiserweights of all time and a former WBA heavyweight world champion, believes Saudi Arabia has changed the game and fight fans should embrace it.

“Us boxing fans have been very spoilt recently. I’ve never known a time when in such close succession, the biggest possible fights that could happen are happening. It’s a great place to be,” Haye said in a video posted on Instagram. “I’m happy boxing has found the savior. Saudi Arabia and Turki Alalshikh have made the impossible possible. Who benefits are the fans, the fighters, and everyone involved in boxing.”

While Haye is correct in pointing out that many of these fights would likely not have been made without Saudi Arabia, it hasn’t all been positive, especially for the average fight fan.

First and foremost, hosting the biggest bouts in Saudi Arabia has made it prohibitively expensive for most fans to attend when factoring in flights, accommodation, tickets, and time off work. Additionally, the events themselves have lacked the sort of atmosphere befitting a major boxing event, so even when watched on TV there has not been the same buzz as fights held in Las Vegas, New York, or London.

Haye, however, believes that in this era – where Saudi Arabia can offer significantly more lucrative purses to fighters than organizers in the U.S. and UK – this is now the new reality and fans will need to get used to it.

“Understandably, many British fight enthusiasts are disappointed at not being able to attend the bouts in Saudi Arabia. However, the stark reality is that it’s either in Saudi or not at all,” he said. “The landscape of boxing, much like the world, is ever-evolving. There was a time when Pay-Per-View events were met with resistance by fans accustomed to free-to-air broadcasts.

“Yet, times have changed. The economic realities of modern boxing mean that traditional revenue streams no longer suffice to meet the financial needs of top-tier fighters. So, to the devoted fans of the sport, let’s embrace this new era with open arms.

“The best are competing against the best, realizing the dream matches we’ve longed for. Exciting mega bouts are on the horizon, and there’s so much to look forward to!”

There is also the matter of Saudi Arabia’s human rights records, which has led many critics to claim that the wealthy Arab state is using sport and entertainment to clean its image on the world stage – a strategy commonly known as ‘sportswashing’.

In response to that, Haye said: “I know it’s got some negativity from some parts of the world trying to point fingers and cast judgment. Whoever they are, look back at the environment you’re in before you start pointing fingers.”

It’s worth noting that Haye was likely not speaking from a position of neutrality. The video he posted on Instagram was branded with ‘Riyadh Season’ – Saudi Arabia’s annual sports and entertainment festival, suggesting it could have been a paid promotion.