Turki Alalshikh tells ESPN he has plan to fix 'broken' boxing

NEW YORK -- Turki Alalshikh, the chairman of Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority, controls the biggest purse strings in boxing and said he plans to use that power to fix a sport he told ESPN is "broken."

The exclusive interview took place last month following the formal announcement of Alalshikh's first boxing event outside Saudi Arabia, a stacked card headlined by ESPN's No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer, Terence Crawford, challenging Israil Madrimov for the WBA junior middleweight title on Aug. 3 in Los Angeles. Alalshikh laid out his plans for boxing and detailed an upcoming slate of star-studded cards.

Crawford vs. Madrimov is presented by Riyadh Season -- an annual state-managed sports and entertainment festival that attracts sponsorships from some of the region's most prominent companies -- which kicks off in October in Saudi Arabia's capital. The title fight is poised to showcase the kingdom's commitment to the sort of promotion, pomp and circumstance Alalshikh believes has been largely missing from boxing.

"We carefully planned our activities for the last six months," Alalshikh said. "We are spending the money to [commercialize] our season and at the same time to test the market and know all the secrets about the market. And now we have a lot of information and we have our own studies and we think from what we tested in the last six months, there is big opportunity in boxing. ... But you must improve the market. You must fix all the problems."

Alalshikh has looked to restore that prestige with the sort of deep, competitive undercards that are commonplace in the UFC but rare in boxing. The Aug. 3 card might feature the deepest support of undercard fights in years.

Isaac "Pitbull" Cruz defends his WBA junior welterweight title vs. Jose Valenzuela in the co-feature while Tim Tszyu fights Vergil Ortiz Jr. in a slugfest between two of ESPN's top junior middleweights. A pair of former heavyweight champions are also slated to compete: Deontay Wilder vs. undefeated Jared Anderson along with Andy Ruiz's return vs. Jarrell Miller. Top talent David Morrell fights Radivoje Kalajdzic and two-time Olympic gold medalist Andy Cruz meets Antonio Moran.

"[Boxing] is broken, but I think we don't need to get everything back together," Alalshikh said. Indeed, boxing sat atop the global sports landscape for much of the 20th century. But with the best matchups being relegated to pay-per-view, the sport's lack of centralized governing body and the minimization of pugilism at the Olympics, the sport has waned in popularity since.

"We need to improve it with something else, we have a strategic vision where we have identified untapped opportunities and are committed to market improvement."

Saudi Arabia hosted the Anthony Joshua-Ruiz heavyweight title rematch in December 2019, the first major boxing event in the Kingdom, and also staged the Oleksandr Usyk-Joshua rematch in August 2022. That was before Alalshikh and the GEA entered the boxing space with the Tyson Fury-Francis Ngannou fight in October. Next came the December card topped by Joshua and Wilder in separate fights. The plan called for them to meet in a long-awaited clash in March, but Wilder dropped an upset decision to Joseph Parker.

Instead, Joshua went on to score a devastating second-round KO of former UFC heavyweight champion Ngannou last month in Riyadh. On May 18, Alalshikh will deliver his most-anticipated fight yet -- what he called the "crown jewel of his efforts" -- with the Fury-Usyk undisputed heavyweight championship fight in Riyadh.

"History will remember this fight," Alalshikh said, comparing the event to the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

Two weeks later in the same city, Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol were set to battle for the undisputed light heavyweight championship. However, Beterbiev suffered a ruptured meniscus that required surgery, which postponed the fight Friday. Alalshikh plans to reschedule the bout later this year. He already rescheduled Fury-Usyk for May 18 after Fury suffered a cut that postponed the bout from its original Feb. 17 date.

Both are coin-flip matchups that fans have clamored years for as they endured stop-and-start negotiations. All four boxers reside on ESPN's pound-for-pound list. While Alalshikh seeks a replacement opponent for Bivol on June 1, the series of five fights between Matchroom -- and Queensberry-promoted fighters remains intact for that same date. Wilder will meet Zhilei Zhang, two heavyweight punchers coming off losses to Parker, along with Filip Hrgovic-Daniel Dubois. Ray Ford defends his WBA featherweight title vs. Nick Ball in another fight.

Alalshikh told ESPN that he'll stage the Fury-Usyk rematch on Oct. 12 or 13 to kick off another Riyadh Season while he originally planned to match the winner of Beterbiev-Bivol vs. David Benavidez, who moves up to light heavyweight June 15 with a fight vs. Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Alalshikh said he would look to match the loser with either Morrell or cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia, who defends his title vs. Mairis Briedis in a rematch on the Fury-Usyk undercard. But that was before Beterbiev-Bivol was postponed with a plan to reschedule for the end of this year.

"Now my strategy," Alalshikh said, "each card the result of it connects with another card."

The Aug. 3 card features fighters from several different promotions, a rare feat in a notoriously fractured sport (two from Matchroom, four from PBC, and one apiece from Top Rank and Golden Boy).

"I deal with everyone," Alalshikh said. " ... When I started in this field, in the beginning [the promoters] competed against each other but now we managed to get them all to work together."

Afterward, Alalshikh will travel to London's Wembley Stadium for an event headlined by Joshua on Sept. 20 or 21. The British star is expected to face the Hrgovic-Dubois winner for the vacant IBF title, another commercial for Riyadh Season with the Kingdom's first boxing event in the U.K.

The IBF ruled that Hrgovic's mandatory title shot as No. 1 contender is overdue, so with Fury and Usyk committed for an immediate rematch, the winner of the May 18 bout will be stripped ahead of Hrgovic-Dubois on June 1. That means only three of boxing's four recognized titles will be on the line for Fury-Usyk 2 in October.

One month later is the Fury-Usyk rematch. Alalshikh said it will happen no matter what transpires in the first meeting. Regardless of how the pair of fights play out, Alalshikh is targeting the long-awaited Fury-Joshua fight for the end of March since Usyk has already defeated Joshua twice. If Fury and Usyk split the two fights, the rubber match could take place later in 2025 after Fury-Joshua, he said.

"I'm being paid a s--- ton of money from Saudi not to turn up and do a boxing fight, but to put a show on and put Saudi on the map," Fury told ESPN last month. "So that's what I'm gonna do, what I'm being paid for: Put on a show. The world's largest traveling showman, me, 'The Gypsy King.'"

Alalshikh revealed that the seventh and final card of the year will take place in December and will pit five American fighters against five U.K. fighters.

In December or January, Alalshikh will look to stage perhaps the biggest fight the sport can offer, a showdown between the face of boxing, Canelo Alvarez, and Crawford in the U.S.

"I'm working to deliver [Canelo], but it will be big fight [for Crawford]," Alalshikh said. "I'll discuss with him the names. "

Crawford hasn't competed more than once in a year since 2019. Alashikhk said they planned to deliver Crawford-Tszyu on Aug. 3 but pivoted to Madrimov when Tszyu was upset by Sebastian Fundora in March.

"There's a lot of respect that comes with Turki and myself," Crawford told ESPN. " ... He's seen the road that I had to take to get to where I am now. And he just wanted to display respect for the sport of boxing and not just somebody that's coming to hold these type of fighters down and not let the world see him. It's an honor that he chose me. He could have chosen anybody else. So I'm definitely grateful."

In the first half of 2025, Alalshikh will look to hold boxing events in Shanghai and Berlin, markets he believes are untapped. Alalshikh observed that a Chinese film about a female boxer named "Yolo" was a smash at the box office with around $380 million generated following its March release.

By the end of 2025, he hopes to unveil a schedule for 2026 in what would be a first for boxing. Each boxing event in Riyadh so far has been preceded by a Hollywood-esque promotional trailer akin to that of a box-office blockbuster.

"You see how much we sometimes [commercialize] the fight, and that's because we understand that it's a competitive market," Alalshikh said. " ... The market's changed. Why's it changed? Because we have a goal. We are committed to the long-term success of this industry; prepared to navigate challenges as we work towards our goal. We will collaborate with all stakeholders to advance boxing and optimize the market. For that, everyone understands that we're taking this very seriously."

The influx of marquee fights in Riyadh -- most of which wouldn't have taken place without the Kingdom's financial support -- leads to questions about boxing strongholds like Las Vegas and London.

"We see Vegas is important and we never want to take its place, but I think it's our right to have big events in our country," Alalshikh said. "Why now is Riyadh taking from Vegas, why not any other city? But you know what's the difference? We do it amazingly. And get attention. We are people who do it right or don't do it. ... I'll do the right cards in my country and outside my country."

Through three boxing events in six months -- with many more on the way -- Alalshikh and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are seeking the attention of the boxing world. Alalshikh pointed out boxing formerly was the most popular in the world but now ranks No. 14.

"We can upgrade it and get it back and make our country ... one of the bases of boxing around the world," Alalshikh said. "I'm taking this very seriously."