Diriyah, Saudi Arabia will host the rematch between newly-crowned WBA/WBO/IBF Heavyweight Champion Andy Ruiz and former kingpin Anthony Joshua.
Saudi Arabia will reportedly spend as much as £80m ($98 Mil) to stage the rematch and promoter Eddie Hearn received more than £33m ($40 Mil) to bring the fight to Diriyah; But is there another reason Hearn was so hellbent on Saudi Arabia? After all, many were critical when Hearn confirmed it as the location for Joshua vs Ruiz 2.
Not only is Islam the state religion of Saudi Arabia, but the connection between Islam and that country (or at least the western Hejaz region of the country) is also uniquely strong. In fact, the kingdom is sometimes is referenced as the “Home of Islam” and the official title of the King of Saudi Arabia is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”— the two being Al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina—which are considered the holiest in Islam. The Saudi Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina are where Muhammad, the messenger of the Islamic faith, lived and died.
Millions of Muslims make their pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia annually and The Qur’an is their constitution.
So, what does all of this have to do with boxer Anthony Joshua?
Some have spread rumors that AJ is Muslim; And while can’t say with 100 percent certainty that he is or isn’t, he publicly denied being a follower of Islam in 2017 and has made no public statement regarding Islam or any other faith.
In 2017, Joshua was criticized on Twitter over a picture showing him taking part in Muslim prayers. Joshua was raised a Christian but insisted he doesn’t practice a religion. Nevertheless, many on Twitter unleashed anger at him for associating himself with Islam.
“I have faith in God but I haven’t picked a religion to follow as such,” Joshua told iFL TV after the incident.
“… One one my best friends from kids is a Muslim. I was on a tour of Dubai in a mosque looking at how beautiful the architecture is. [When] it was his time to do afternoon prayers I said ‘Put a prayer in for me.’ Everyone needs a little bit of blessing wherever it comes from so we were in a mosque at the time so he said ‘what don’t you join me for prayer.'”
“Even though I was respecting the culture, I was just praying in my way but following the way of Islam… it would have been the same if I was in a church.”
“I don’t want to start clarifying stuff because I don’t feel like I have to,” he told iFL TV.
“If I want to be in a mosque, if I want to be in a Catholic Church or a normal church, it’s all down to my decision.”
Joshua vs Ruiz 2
WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight titles
December 07, 2019
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Broadcast: DAZN, Sky Box Office HD
As a teen, a Jewish friend attended church with me but never expressed interest in converting to Christianity. Hence, praying in a mosque doesn’t make someone Muslim just as attending a church service doesn’t make one a Christian.
Anthony Joshua’s religion (or lack thereof) probably had no role in Saudi Arabia’s winning bid to host Joshua vs Ruiz 2.