Saudi Arabia has emerged as a strong contender to host Anthony Joshua’s much anticipated rematch with unified world heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr.
The Middle East country has delivered a lucrative proposal which is under serious consideration by Joshua’s team.
An offer from Dubai was also put forward but Saudi Arabia and Cardiff’s Principality Stadium are the destinations now likely to play host.
The IBF, WBA and WBO world title bout is set for 7 or 14 December.
An announcement on the destination could take place as soon as Friday if final talks progress adequately.
Joshua has said his preference is to stage the fight in Cardiff, but odds on Saudi Arabia playing host have fallen to 1-20 with one bookmaker.
The venue for the repeat fixture has been a topic of uncertainty since Ruiz, 29, said he would not be making the first defence of his titles in the UK.
Promoter Eddie Hearn has said returning to the US – where 29-year-old Joshua fell to a shock defeat at New York’s Madison Square Garden – is unlikely.
A potential stumbling block for Saudi Arabia could be the country’s time zone. Joshua’s bouts are televised on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK, which is two hours behind Saudi.
But the east coast of the US is seven hours behind Saudi Arabia, while the west coast is a further three hours behind.
If the bout therefore started at midnight in the Middle East, it would be taking place at 17:00 in New York and 14:00 in Los Angeles – times which could prove unpopular with fans paying to stream what will be the biggest fight in the sport this year.
Saudi Arabia has made plays to hold significant sporting events in recent years, and hosted British boxer Amir Khan’s recent win over Billy Dib and Callum Smith’s success over George Groves in the World Boxing Super Series final in September.
The country hosted the opening race of the Formula E season in December, is in talks to host a Formula 1 race before 2021 and recently announced it will stage the richest race in horseracing history in February.
However, when Khan accepted his bout with Dib, Amnesty International highlighted Saudi Arabia’s “abysmal human rights record”.
The country’s controversial Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has said he wants to reform the country both in social and economic terms as part of his ‘Vision 2030’ plan – but he has also been strongly linked with the murder of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.
Social reforms have included lifting the ban on women being able to drive, while high-profile pop stars have been enticed to perform in Saudi Arabia in order to enhance the country’s image.
Ruiz scored four knockdowns on his way to a seventh-round stoppage on what was Joshua’s much-publicised US debut on 1 June. The result ranked as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the heavyweight division, with Joshua a 1-25 favourite before the bout.
Since his win, Ruiz has questioned Joshua’s boxing skill set, while Joshua has spoken of a belief in his ability to “right my wrongs”.