Anthony Joshua defends Saudi Arabia after ‘expecting to step off the plane see something like a war zone’

Joshua praised the reception he and his fans received in the Middle East despite strong criticism of the decision to take the rematch to Saudi Arabia due to its record of human rights abuses

Jack de Menezes
Monday 09 December 2019 14:38
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Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz presser

Newly-crowned heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua defended Saudi Arabia following his rematch against Andy Ruiz in Diriyah.

In what was the first heavyweight title fight to take place in the Middle East, Joshua gained revenge over Ruiz following his defeat earlier in the year, securing a convincing unanimous decision to get his career back on track.

However, the fight did not go without its controversy as both Joshua and Hearn faced intense criticism for choosing to take the fight to Saudi Arabia, given its record of human rights abuses in the form of public beheadings and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Joshua has repeatedly batted away questions about the controversy in the build-up to the fight, claiming that his sole focus was on beating Ruiz and regaining the belts he lost in New York six months ago, but now that the fight was in the rear-view mirror he chose to defend Saudi Arabia’s reputation from what he has seen during his two-week stay there.

“I was just focussing on the fight and the rematch,” Joshua said on ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “To have it on neutral grounds was just fine for me. The team made a great decision, I made the decision to fight there and from what I’ve seen, honestly, looking out the window now it’s a nice place.

“In terms of the regime I hadn’t diverted my attention from focussing my attention on the fight to focussing on the things that may be happening in Saudi because when I came off the plane I just saw a beautiful structure, buildings, cars and roads. I didn’t see all the things that I’ve heard about Saudi Arabia.”

However, Joshua’s answer was challenged by presenter Piers Morgan, who stated that he was talking about things far more controversial than cars and roads, such as the recently-lifted ban on women driving in the Kingdom.

“No there’s loads of women driving out here. From what I’ve seen there’s loads of women driving,” Joshua said.

“I think there’s so many different ways and it’s about being open-minded because if I’m listening to what someone’s telling me, I was expecting to come off the plane and see something completely different – something like a war zone. I got off the plane and it was the simple things, things like women driving, men driving, beautiful buildings, architecture and roads, and I feel like all my travelling supporters who came to Saudi Arabia got to experience that and it’s nice for them as well because they’ve said they’ve had a great time.

“I think hospitality’s in their culture, they’ve looked after us but in saying that I am looking forward to getting home and it’s been a great experience for me. It’s one for the history books and I we created history in the history of Saudi Arabia.”

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