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Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz II: Clash on the Dunes

Anthony Joshua and his camp probably underestimated Andy Ruiz Jr in their first encounter, but appearances ̵

1; even in heavyweight pro boxing – can be deceptive.

It’s fair to say that AJ has fought opposition in far better-looking physical shape than the Mexican-American. Yet Ruiz floored the British boxer on four occasions, leading to a seventh-round stoppage that resulted in a maiden defeat in the paid ranks back in June.

Joshua also lost the IBF, WBA, and WBO heavyweight championships in this bout held inside New York City’s hallowed sports arena Madison Square Garden, that he was odds-on favourite with bookmakers to win. Overcoming this first bump in the road in his professional career is the background to the rematch on 7 December.

Its backdrop, meanwhile, is a purpose-built 15,000-seater stadium in Saudi Arabia. This return fight is billed as the ‘Clash on the Dunes’ – is the desert the best climate for any form of athletic competition?

Probably not, but pro wrestling and sports entertainment organisation WWE now holds two annual events in Saudi Arabia, however, the Joshua v Ruiz II is the first world heavyweight title bout to take place anywhere in the Middle East.

They are breaking new ground at a time when the region has done its level best to increase its profile as a viable arena for hosting global sport. The IAAF World Athletics Championships were held in Doha, Qatar earlier this year, but road races like the marathon had to take place in the middle of the night due to the oppressive heat.

Crowd attendances for the track and field were poor. Joshua has sold out larger venues like the Principality Stadium in Cardiff and Wembley in his home country, so the gate in Saudi Arabia will be interesting.

After getting the Ruiz rematch, the country will hope it delivers in the Diriyah Arena. Pro wrestling, heavyweight boxing, and the world’s newest and richest horse race, the Saudi Cup, are all sporting attractions going on in Saudi Arabia this winter.

This is all part of a wider focus on the Middle East in this sphere that culminates in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It seems Joshua and Ruiz are part of a bigger strategy to transform Western perceptions.

What of the fight itself? AJ remains the 2/5 favourite in the latest boxing betting on the bout while Ruiz, meanwhile, is 2/1 to confirm his victory over Joshua was no fluke, and 11/4 to stop the Briton with a KO/TKO win again.

Those odds suggest that AJ is not expected to slip up twice and instead regain three of the four world heavyweight championships in the sport. The pressure is very much on the challenger here.

Joshua himself knows this. In the build-up to the return bout, he has spoken about the need to avoid tarnishing his legacy – one which includes an Olympic gold medal from London 2012 as an amateur.

Better quality sparring during his training camp is what AJ hopes will prove key to dethroning Ruiz and regaining the belts. This is one potentially absorbing fight on a new frontier for the sport of boxing.