Dubai: Staging boxing’s equivalent to the Champions League final in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this month will be a ‘gate opener’ for the sport in the region, according to promoter Kalle Sauerland.
George Groves fights fellow Brit Callum Smith in the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) super middleweight final at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City on September 28.
It is the culmination of a year of eliminators among the top eight in each weight division from the quarter-final to the final, after which a champion will be crowned with the Muhammad Ali trophy.
The Middle East has long been linked to hosting mega fights, but this is the first, and thanks to its simple concept, Sauerland believes it won’t be the last.
“I believe the product is the right one to bring to open doors in the region,” he told Gulf News.
“It’s something people from the non-boxing world can grasp and grow for future seasons, whereas you can’t keep holding a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout.”
The German likened it to how Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ against George Foreman, and Ali’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’ with Joe Frazier, acted as a “gate opener” for the sport in Africa and Asia during the mid-seventies.
“The difference in the Arab world though is that it doesn’t really have a fighting background, whereas Africa and Asia did. If this can get kids into boxing, it would be very exciting.”
As part of Vision 2030, once-closed Saudi Arabia is looking to open its doors to tourists through hosting sports events in order to diversify its economy beyond oil. Riyadh will stage an event on golf’s European Tour next year, while three of football’s next five Italian Super Cup finals will be held in the capital from January.
“Sport is always a factor to attracting new people to a region and there’s no better way to do that.
“We’ll meet with our partners to discuss expanding, but for the moment we are very focused on making this event the best it can be. Expansion plays second fiddle to the event for now, but of course we’re looking to the future and once you’ve got a foot in the door you want to keep it there.
“Dubai is also a place looking to attract events with Expo 2020, and for us it’s very important Saudi is not just a one-off. We want to develop our partners in the region.
“Maybe Dubai and Abu Dhabi have had different sporting focuses. Historically boxing has been quite disorganised. You can’t blame the region if the right offering hasn’t previously been there, but now you have the WBSS and it is organised. It’s also very easy to explain to the man on the street.”
Groves and Smith have both voiced their disappointment that the all-Brit affair couldn’t be held in the UK, but Sauerland said both fighters should look at the bigger picture.
“The Champions League between Spain’s Real Madrid and England’s Liverpool was played in Kiev, so I don’t really buy into that. Boxing is a global sport and both fighters will be the first to raise the curtain for the sport in the region. That’s something they can tell their grandkids in years to come.”