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Jeddah World Boxing Super Series final could be new 'Thrilla in Manila' for Middle East.

George Groves (pictured) and Callum Smith do battle for the WBA Super-Middleweight title on Sept. 28 in Jeddah. (AFP)

LONDON: Boxing promoter Kalle Sauerland believes the World Boxing Super Series Final in Jeddah will "open the door" to more boxing events in the region, comparing it to the fabled "Thrilla in Manila" and "Rumble in the Jungle" fights of the 1970s.

George Groves and Callum Smith do battle for the WBA Super-Middleweight title on Sept. 28 in what Sauerland believes will be a momentous contest in Saudi Arabia.

And the German, whose company Sauerland Promotions is behind the World Boxing Super Series, insists that the fight is not about making a quick buck, but about growing the popularity of boxing in the Kingdom and the wider Middle East.

Sauerland told Arab News: "For both sides, we've already said this is about a long-term relationship to develop the sport in the region. That's something that we very much intend to do. I fully expect this to become an annual event.

"You talk about opening the door to regions around the globe and the comparison has to be made with the 'Rumble in the Jungle' and the 'Thrilla in Manila.' Those massive events lit the boxing fire in Africa and Asia respectively and I think we have that here.

"It's not just about doing the event, it is about bringing the sport to the region and helping boxing flourish, hand in hand with the General Sports Authority."

The Gulf has long been touted as a destination for world-class boxing, but while the likes of Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr have all expressed an interest in fighting there, a major event has yet to materialize.

There have been a smattering of one-off fights, including the final bout of former world heavyweight champion Michael Moorer's career, a victory over fellow American Shelby Gross in Dubai in 2007.

But Groves vs Smith is unquestionably the highest-profile clash to date, pitting two boxers at the top of their game against each other in Jeddah.

Sauerland says the issue for the many promoters who have looked at hosting events in the Middle East before has been a lack of genuine intent from potential partners on the ground.

He said: "I think many people wonder why it has not been possible for a Team Sauerland, a Matchroom, or even a Don King or Bob Arum to bring an event here over the years. Everyone has talked about it because so many boxers head to places like Dubai. There has been a lot of hype.

"I was with Amir Khan recently in Los Angeles and we were discussing it because he has also said he wants to fight in the Gulf, but that first big fight has just never got over the line.

"We've been in communication with people in the region often over the years but there have just never been concrete developments. People talk about wanting to host events but then fail to follow through. Many promoters have had the same problem."

Sauerland has had no such problem with the GSA, which has shown a desire to make the Boxing World Super Series Final a flagship event in its sports portfolio.

"It's about finding the right entry point for boxing, and that's what we've got with our event in Jeddah. We finally had a serious approach this time from the GSA and the deal went through very quickly.

"What Saudi Arabia is trying to deliver to the region is very aggressive and ambitious. But they showed with the WWE that they can pull these events off. They have the Italian Super Cup coming, the European Tour -- it's exciting to be involved with bringing world-class sport to the country.

"We have the Champions League of boxing, a product that is easy to grasp and we believe will be welcomed. The World Super Series Boxing Final may be the first boxing event in Saudi Arabia but it will certainly not be the last."

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Sep 4, 2018
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