Days out from ‘The Truth’ and the latest must-see sports event for fans around the world, the upcoming spectacle is generating interest and capturing imaginations across the Kingdom in more ways than one.
Aside from the long-awaited showdown where Jake Paul and Tommy Fury finally settle their rivalry in boxing’s biggest grudge match, another story that captivates, inspires, and paves the way for future female fighters will be on full display in front of the world’s cameras, under the brights lights in Diriyah.
This coming Sunday, a new era of women’s boxing in Saudi Arabia officially begins on the evening’s undercard when Ragad Al Naimi becomes the first female boxer from the Kingdom to make her professional debut. Ahead of her bout against Perpetual Okaidah, Ragad is honoured to be representing her country on home soil and looks forward to competing in such a high-profile event.
“Being the first Saudi female to compete in an international boxing event gives me a lot of pride. I never thought that I would one day be able to perform on such a big international stage in my home country,” she said. “Saudi Arabia is a young, vibrant country that supports and cherishes its youth, and I can’t wait to be a part of this by competing on the upcoming card on February 26.”
“I’m confident I will win,” the 28-year-old added. “I’m fully invested in my training, I’ve always wanted to perform at the highest level, and I’m determined to prove I can compete on international cards.”
After being introduced to boxing while studying overseas in the United States, Ragad’s passion for the sport compelled her to continue training upon her return to the Kingdom. Although her involvement came much later than almost all professional boxers, Ragad’s professional bow is certain the show emerging talent that anything is possible with the correct application and commitment.
“For me, boxing came by natural instinct,” she explained. “Usually fighters start training at a very early age, whereas I began in my early 20s. The moment I started boxing, I knew I was good at this sport and my love for it has never waned. My first boxing classes began in early 2017 and by May 2018, I was able to participate in a charity fight. From there, things kept progressing to today, where the sport is developing in our country like never before.”
Recent years have seen boxing play a pivotal part in Saudi Arabia’s ascension to one of the fastest-growing countries in world sport, inspired by major international events that left behind a lasting legacy. Perhaps the most significant was ‘Clash on the Dunes’ in 2019, when Anthony Joshua avenged his shock defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr and become a two-time world heavyweight champion in front of a capacity crowd inside the Diriyah Arena.
Three years on from the epic encounter, the overall event is directly impacting boxing popularity to this day. Since then, a +300% increase in male and female boxers registered with the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation has been confirmed, with the number of boxing gyms rising nationwide from seven to 59 and 53 registered clubs from other sports now having a boxing division.
Rasha harbours no doubt about what instigated the Kingdom’s newfound love for boxing and she is especially pleased with the proactivity and productivity of the Ministry of Sport and Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation.
“The massive difference in participation was after Clash on the Dunes,” Ragad stated. “For both genders, interest in the sport has skyrocketed since then and record numbers are continuously competing in local competitions hosted in Riyadh and Jeddah.
“The strategic efforts by the Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation are really starting to show, not least with record numbers of men and women engaging with boxing. I’m very impressed by the amount of time and energy they are exerting to develop boxing, from hosting local tournaments, training judges and referees, and investing in all levels of boxing — from grassroots through to headline events. Their efforts have helped ensure the sport is developing like never before. Many new gyms have recently opened and many people are falling in love with boxing.”
Following her professional debut on Sunday, Ragad will have an eye on the rest of the evening’s fights, including Paul v Fury, which promises to be an unmissable spectacle. Commenting on the main event between the two adversaries and undefeated fighters, she offered her opinions on the match-up and who she believes could come out on top.
“It will be a very close fight,” she said. “Fury is a professional boxer and Paul has been outstanding so far. I’m excited to see who will grab the win. For me, I’m leaning more towards Paul, but we shall see.”
The Truth and Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury promises to be an unmissable spectacle from Diriyah’s purpose-built arena and is part of Diriyah Season’s second edition, which presents a series of world-class international sports and entertainment events from the birthplace of Saudi Arabia and UNESCO heritage site.
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