MENA Sports Wrap: Rumble in Riyadh as Usyk faces Fury in 2020s biggest boxing bout

MENA Sports Wrap: Rumble in Riyadh as Usyk faces Fury in 2020s biggest boxing bout
The biggest boxing matches in decades takes place in Riyadh this weekend as Usyk and Fury face off, while Ronaldo could be joined by two Man Utd teammates.
5 min read
17 May, 2024
One of the biggest fights in years takes place in Riyadh this weekend [Getty/file photo]

Cristiano Ronaldo could be playing football into his 40s, while two former of his former Manchester United teammates could be joining the Portuguese star in the Saudi Pro League.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest boxing bouts in decades will take place this weekend as Tyson Fury faces Oleksandr Usyk in Riyadh.

Ronaldo potentially staying at Al-Nassr past 40th birthday

Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to extend his contract with Saudi side Al-Nassr, working on a deal reaching until 2025 and beyond his milestone 40th birthday.

Experts believe the Saudi club will be keen on capitalising on the Portugal star's "ability and marketing appeal on their books", as Al-Nassr pursue other big-names this summer.

TalkSPORT's Saudi league correspondent, Ben Jacobs, said: "2025 is a really key year in Saudi Arabia for two reasons. One, because Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract expires, although my understanding is that he may renew for one year."

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Ronaldo initially signed a two-year contract with the Saudi Pro League club in January 2025, with his 40th birthday being on 5 February.

The former Real Madrid and Manchester United player has enjoyed a stellar season with the Saudi side, with 48 goals scored in 47 appearances.

His current tally for the club is 62 goals in 66 games across all competitions.

Ronaldo's move to Saudi Arabia triggered considerable media coverage, as well as a flurry of high-profile footballers signing with different clubs in the Gulf country. Saudi Arabia's splurge on the sport's biggest stars triggered backlash, with accusations of "sports-washing".

The Portuguese footballer, widely considered among the greatest of all time, was named on Thursday as the highest-paid athlete in the world, after having topped Forbes' athlete rich list for the fourth consecutive year.

The business magazine said the 39-year-old forward earned $260m (£205m) - up from $136m (£108.7m) - over the past 12 months.

Riyadh hosts historic Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk undisputed heavyweight boxing championship 

History will be made in Riyadh on Saturday night when British boxer Tyson Fury will fight Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk as both men bid to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Fury, aged 35, holds the WBC and lineal heavyweight world championships, while Usyk, 37, holds the WBO, WBA (Super), IBF and The Ring magazine heavyweight world titles.

It will be the first time in 25 years that the chance to become the undisputed heavyweight champion will be up for grabs and the first-time ever in the four belt era.

The last time there was an undisputed champion in the heavyweight division was when Lennox Lewis defeated Evander Holyfield in 1999.

Both fighters are undefeated, with Olympic gold medallist Usyk looking to secure his name in the history books by becoming the only boxer in history to have been undisputed in both the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions.

Additionally, the WBC unveiled a special commemorative belt up for grabs, emblazoned with the Ukrainian and British flags, with the WBC’s Mexican-Lebanese President Mauricio Suleiman even getting the strap blessed by Pope Francis.

The fight, billed as the Ring of Fire, comes as part of Saudi Arabia’s annual state-funded entertainment and sports festival known as the Riyadh Season, which runs from October to spring every year. It will take part in the state-of-the-art Kingdom Arena.

Fury vs Usyk is one of many pioneering boxing events brought to the kingdom by Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Gulf state’s General Entertainment Authority.

The kingdom is rapidly becoming the most prestigious boxing platforms on earth, with it easily outmatching the traditional hubs, such as Las Vegas, New York and London, for prize money. Fury is reportedly set to bag an astonishing $150 million (£116 million) for the bout. 

Riyadh Season kicked off in October last year with the so-called Battle of the Baddest, a cross-over boxing fight between Fury and former UFC mixed martial arts champion Francis Ngannou.

It has since hosted the Day of Reckoning, a pioneering event that saw former unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and former WBC  heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder feature on the co-main event, bringing together rival UK promoters for the first time in history. 

More stars heading to the Saudi Pro League?

Ronaldo could have two more Portuguese speakers in the dressing room, if UK tabloids are to be believed, with Al-Nassr pursuing Manchester United stars Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro.

The Telegraph reported that Ronaldo's Portuguese teammate Fernandes is a prime target for the Riyadh club, although it is highly unlikely that they will be able to entice the 29-year-old Manchester United captain from the Premier League who is at the peak of his career.

Another option is Brazilian midfielder Casemiro, who at 32 is a more likely candidate for the Saudi Pro League after a disappointing season at Manchester United with many saying he no longer has the pace to compete in English football.

The Telegraph article also named Premier League goalkeepers Ederson and Alisson - both Brazilians - as targets for Saudi Pro League clubs.

It comes after The Guardian reported that the quota for foreign players for Saudi Pro League clubs will be increased from eight to ten, although two must be aged under 21.

A key target of Saudi teams is Mo Salah, the paper added, which follows Liverpool's rebuff of a £150 million offer from Al-Ittihad on transfer deadline day last September.

Ireland hosts Palestine for Gaza event

As the Saudi Pro League buzz continues, a solemn football game for held in Ireland on Wednesday night in solidarity for the people of Gaza.

Bohemians women's hosted the Palestine's national team for a friendly match to a sell-out crowd at the Dublin club's Dalymount Park.

The 4,290 crowd displayed Palestinian flags to commemorate Nakba Day, as the Palestinian national anthem rang out. Moments later and a minute's silence was held for the more than 35,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza.

The two countries have long-standing relations and Irish and diaspora football fans often show displays of solidarity for Palestine at games.

While Palestine won the match 2-1, it would be safe to say that few Bohemian fans were disheartened with the result with the visitors receiving a rascous round of applause for their efforts.