Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk facing fan backlash for rematch venue

Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk finally have a date and venue for their WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight title rematch.

The pair are set to lock horns on July 23 in Saudi Arabia. The final details are being ironed out this week ahead of an expected announcement next week. The contracts have been swapped between both parties since late last month with amendments now being finalised.

Joshua, 32, was outpointed and outclassed by Ukrainian Usyk last September at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He immediately triggered his rematch clause but the return fight has been plagued by delays. Joshua has made changes to his training team with head coach Rob McCracken ditched in favour of Angel Fernandez.

Then there was talk of a step aside fee to allow Usyk to face WBC champion Tyson Fury in an undisputed clash in the Middle East. Those discussions collapsed at the final hurdle so Fury faced Dillian Whyte, his mandatory challenger, instead.

That left Joshua and Usyk to finalise their deal but then Russia invaded Ukraine which saw the world heavyweight champion drafted into action to protect his homeland. Usyk, who also had a shoulder injury to overcome, has been out of Ukraine for six weeks now and preparing for the rematch.

“I think there’s a very good chance you’ll see that fight July 23 in the Middle East,” Promoter Eddie Hearn told iFL TV. “We have had a number of offers from around the world. We have been working through those and we’re closing in on that option. Team Usyk have stressed that that’s the option they would prefer because obviously it’s a lot of money.

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“Quite frankly I think Team Usyk would rather a neutral venue and I don’t blame them for that. So that’s where we’re at. Do we announce this week? Probably not. But do we announce next week? Almost certainly. You will see that fight, you will see that fight in July and you’ll get an official announcement soon.”

The finer details of the rematch contract means the Ukrainian has the final say on the location of the return fight if there is a larger purse on offer elsewhere. The initial plan was to stage the second fight at Wembley or back at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

But the Saudis have put forward a massive fee to bring Joshua, who beat Andy Ruiz in Riyadh in 2019, back to the Gulf state. Because of the searing summer temperatures in Saudi, the fight will take place in a purpose-built indoor venue.

That is set to be in Jeddah, the coastal city, rather than the capital where Joshua fought Ruiz. British fans are set to be angered by the location while Joshua and Usyk will come under criticism from human rights groups for going to Saudi. Amnesty International heavily criticised Joshua for going there in 2019 when he pocketed more than £40m for the fight.

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