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Is Joshua-Wilder Off? Saudi Official Stirs Confusion With Hazy Statements

Is Joshua-Wilder Off Saudi Official Stirs Confusion With Hazy Statements featured image
Turki al-Sheikh, Chairman of Saudi's General Authority for Entertainment, attends the friendly football match between Brazil and Argentina at the King Saud University stadium in the Saudi capital Riyadh on November 15, 2019. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP) (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Turki Al-Sheikh, a prominent Saudi Arabian businessman and government official, appeared at the press conference that announced the October 28th exhibition fight between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou. Al-Sheikh virtually seemed to challenge Skill Challenge Entertainment, which had been considered the most prevalent boxing promotion in Saudi Arabia until Al-Sheikh’s statements. His remarks also seemed to allude that the Joshua-Wilder rumors, if true, would only be announced by him or his government department, the General Entertainment Authority (GEA).

Naturally, Turki Al-Sheikh’s words have definitively caused confusion in the boxing industry, mostly concerning Skill Challenge Entertainment, which had been thought to be the leading boxing promotion in Saudi Arabia. Skill Challenge has, thus far, produced several fights in Saudi Arabia, most prominently the rematch between heayweights Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua on August 20th, and the most recent co-headliner between Badou Jack and Ilunga Makabu [also Jake Paul and Tommy Fury] on February 26th that resulted in the former becoming the WBC cruiserweight champion.

Skill Challenge Entertainment was founded by Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud, son of Saudi Arabia’s current king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and is headed by former kickboxing champion Amer Abdallah. However, Al-Sheikh, the current chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) ― a government department in Saudi Arabia that regulates the entertainment industry, has now apparently taken control of promoting boxing in Saudi Arabia, according to himself.

This is the first fight with Top Rank, quality, and production in the region,” Al-Sheikh said in a now-deleted snippet from a interview by Queensberry Promotions that was fortunately recovered by The Sun.

There are a lot of rumors in the market, and I hope boxing fans don’t listen or care about rumors until they have something official from our side.

There are a lot of people talking about fights in Saudi Arabia or meeting me, but I never met anyone except Frank Warren and Bob Arum (Fury’s joint promoters) and Tyson Fury and Ngannou’s teams.

Any other surprises we want to do, you will hear about at the right time.

Apparently, every confirmation of rumors regarding a big fight in Saudi Arabia now goes through Al-Sheikh or presumably the GEA. Despite the language barrier evident during this interview and his inability to be transparent, we have deduced that he now believes he ― or Saudi’s government branch in the GEA ― is apparently now the main authority on boxing. This now seemingly also includes the announcement of significant fights in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Sheikh’s statement in urging boxing fans to only listen to his side ― ‘our side’ as he had put it ― in regards to the announcement of big fights in Saudi Arabia seems to refer to the GEA which he runs.

It is unclear what he means by this, though his words can be interpreted as the following:

  • His department will be responsible for announcing large, relevant boxing matches in Saudi Arabia.
  • His department is the foremost authority in promoting boxing in Saudi Arabia.
  • His department will have responsibilities similar to a boxing promotion, or he will create a boxing promotion that will be overseen by the GEA.

Turki Al-Sheikh’s wording has been vague throughout. Referring to Skill Challenge as “a lot of people talking about fights in Saudi Arabia” seems to blatantly gloss over the fact that they are considered a legitimate promotion.

His other statement about “a lot of people talking about fights in Saudi Arabia” seems to refer to Skill Challenge Entertainment, which had thus far been an official boxing promotion with clear and decipherable figures in Skill Challenge chairman Amer Adelazziz and founder Khalid bin Salman (Al Saud).

Furthermore, there have been no substantial reports which can confirm that Skill Challenge is no longer active in promoting boxing fights in Saudi Arabia, and given the promotion is founded by Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of the current ruler of Saudi Arabia, it is highly unlikely that Skill Challenge’s lack of involvement in boxing going forward would be left unannounced.

He also referenced himself, explaining that rumors seemed to revolve around him in regards to being involved in rumored big fights in Saudi Arabia, which boils down to the rumors surrounding the Joshua-Wilder fight. However, up until his appearance at the launch press conference of FuryNgannou, no one seemed to have been aware of who he actually was, or at least what his involvement was in boxing.

Since he also didn’t substantiate on what these rumors were, it is left to interpretation as to what he was referring to. He might have been talking about the Joshua-Wilder fight, but as he stuck to being vague and unclear, we are still left in the lurch as to what he was referring to.

It is impossible to truly know what Al-Sheikh meant without an interpreter or full transparency. His inability to identify who or what he is referring to by constantly using pronouns is either on purpose, or unintentional. Either way, his statements should virtually be dismissed, as he has clarified nothing noteworthy regarding his role in boxing and as it stands, is simply aiding Queensberry Promotions promote the Fury-Ngannou fight in Saudi Arabia.

This essentially also means that the Joshua-Wilder fight can still occur, but like Al-Sheikh, the only way to confirm whether this will actually happen is by awaiting an official statement, whether it comes from Skill Challenge, the Saudi government of the GEA, or any other party that can come out of the woodwork to be explicitly vague and unclear about their role in boxing, or the events set to take place.