Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz fight at risk as thunderstorms and harsh weather hits Diriyah

Jack de Menezes
The Independent
Fans attempt to remain dry ahead of Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz: Reuters
Fans attempt to remain dry ahead of Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz: Reuters

Anthony Joshua’s hotly-anticipated rematch against Andy Ruiz is at risk of cancellation after thunderstorms hit Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

The crunch heavyweight title match is due to take place in Diriyah on the outskirts of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, with the two boxers expected to make their ring walks around 8:45pm for a scheduled 9pm start UK time [midnight local time].

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But heavy thunderstorms have struck the region ahead of the ‘Clash in the Desert’, leading to suggestions that the worst-case scenario could come to fruition if conditions do not improve.

The weather forecast suggests that skies should clear the closer it gets to the main event, but provisions have been put in place to cancel fights on the undercard if required.

As part of the talks to stage the event, a provisional 2020 date has already been marked out to hold the bout in the event of a cancellation, and organisers are prepared to cancel Saturday’s entire show – including the main event itself – if there is a single flash of lightning one the evening gets underway.

To make matters worse, the 15,000 expected to attend the purpose-built Diriyah Arena will be almost entirely in exposed to the elements as there is not roof over their head. Only a canvas high above the ring will keep the boxers, corners and judges dry as well as those in close proximity, but fans who have paid up to £10,000 for tickets will find themselves in for a wet evening.

At present organisers hope to see the rain stop by 10pm, which should be early enough to ensure that the main undercard fights involving Dillian Whyte and Mariusz Wach as well as Alexander Povetkin versus Michael Hunter take place in good conditions, though boxers may face trouble keeping their ring boots dry in making their way out from the dressing rooms and could resort to tying bags around their feet as a result.

The Diriyah Arena was erected by 175 staff in fewer than six weeks, with the structure built especially for this fight as part of Saudi Arabia’s bid to bring the rematch to the Middle East. Having seen the first bout – which Ruiz won with a seventh-round stoppage – take place inside boxing’s spiritual home of New York’s Madison Square Garden, the venue this time around will be a stark contract to what both fighters are normally accustomed to.

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