Dubai: British boxer Anthony Joshua has said he is pushing to get a women’s fight on the undercard of his heavyweight world title clash with Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia on December 7.
The 29-year-old is aiming to reclaim the IBF, WBA and WBO belts he lost to the Mexican-American during the first defeat of his career thanks to a stunning seventh-round stoppage by Ruiz at Madison Square Garden in New York in June.
Now that the venue has been decided — the historic town of Diriyah just outside Riyadh in Saudi Arabia — Joshua has revealed that not only is he determined to return as world champion once again, there is the potential to use the event to highlight the progress made to give women more equality in the kingdom.
Women in Saudi Arabia were given the right to drive last year and, among other initiatives promoting equality, many sporting events have now opened their doors to women spectators.
Joshua insists women will be able to attend the fight and went one further by suggesting that two females may be slugging it out in the ring, too.
“We are looking at potentially putting a woman on the undercard,” he told BBC 5 Live Boxing.
“We’ve listened to the critics and asked questions to organisers. The event will be spectacular, no doubt about it.
“We hear they are building the grass roots out there. What boxing has done for the likes of myself, building confidence, this is what boxing is to Saudi Arabia. It’s not just two men coming together to fight.”
The Kingdom has initiated a massive push to host major sporting events, including the world’s richest horse race, Formula One and the Dakar Rally.
Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn says talks are “ongoing” concerning a female bout on December 7.
“That would be incredibly groundbreaking,” Hearn told the BBC. “We have had criticism with the choice of venue.
“Saudi Arabia are trying to showcase to the world via sport and entertainment ‘we are changing’. There’s no better message than delivering that.”
Joshua also spoke about the hurt he felt after that defeat to Ruiz in June and his determination to regain the titles.
He said he received a number of calls from friends — including former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko — offering support following the loss.
“It took me about three weeks, I thought about it every night before I slept,” Joshua said. “You realise how tough you are. Some need comforting, I didn’t. I have to let the past be the past.
“I can’t prepare the same way I prepared the last time and expect different results,” he admits. “If I prepare the same way, I got to expect the same results. So, I’m going to prepare a little bit different and I think that should get me a different result.”