The Greatest, The Baddest, & Pacman: Famous Boxing Legends Who Visited The Middle East

Millions of fans around the world enjoy the world of boxing; with many of them in the Middle East, making it a destination for boxers not only to fight but also to relax and visit, thanks to its rich history, luxury resorts, and great venues. One of the legendary boxers in the past few decades, Floyd Mayweather Jr has come out of retirement to box again in a couple of events. This year, he’s already been to Abu Dhabi and is returning in November for another fight, this time against a Youtuber named Deji.

So we decided to look back at some of the most prominent boxers in history who visited the MENA region, be it to box or relax.

Muhammad Ali

Born in 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, Muhammad Ali started training as a boxer at the age of 12. Six years later, he wore a gold medal after winning it in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Summer Olympics. He would box professionally, becoming a force to be reckoned with, earning the title “The Greatest” thanks to his speed and powerful punches. He easily became the heavyweight champion of the world, defending the title for years on end.

Muhammad Ali is one of the most beloved boxers in the world, but he was also deeply loved by many in the Middle East. Ali visited the MENA region several times when he was alive. In 1972, he famously traveled to Mecca to perform the Hajj. He also visited Egypt twice, the first was in 1964 when he met then-President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, while his second visit was in 1986. Ali visited Libya as well, where he visited resistance hero Omar Mukhtar’s grave in the late 70s; the boxer was so loved in Middle Eastern countries that he used to get mobbed by fans cheering his name and asking for photographs. Without a doubt, he was and still is one of the most adored boxers ever in the region.

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson was born in 1966, in Brooklyn, New York, USA, and had a humble upbringing, making his professional boxing debut in 1985 at the age of 18. He won his first match with a TKO and became unstoppable in the ring. The boxer was known for his ferocious fighting style many opponents were afraid of stepping into the same ring with him. Tyson would go on to win his first belt at the age of 20, becoming the youngest boxer ever to win a heavyweight title.

Another one of the most memorable boxers to watch, Mike Tyson is also one of the fighters who visited the Middle East several times. The youngest boxer to win a heavyweight title visited Saudi Arabia in 2010, where he performed an Umra in Mecca after visiting Madina. During his one-week stay, he met some of the locals, saw some of the famous landmarks within the kingdom, and learned more about the people’s customs and traditions.

Tyson also visited Egypt several times, taking a tour of the pyramids of Giza, checking out several museums, such as the Egyptian Museum, where he saw the mummies at the time, and even shot a couple of scenes for movies he was in.

The famous boxer also made his way to Dubai, where he was surprised at the country’s wealth and skyscrapers, comparing it to New York City. Tyson liked it so much that he decided to open his gym and boxing center there too.

Manny Pacquiao

Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao Sr., also known as “PacMan” was born in 1978 in the Philippines. The fourth out of six siblings, he followed in the steps of his brother Alberto “Bobby” Pacquiao, a senator and former professional boxer. 

Pacquiao was able to achieve much in his boxing career, making history by winning twelve major world titles, being the first boxer ever to win world titles in eight weight divisions, as well as becoming the first boxer to win the lineal championship in five different weight classes. Pacquiao is also the first boxer to become a four-decade world champion, winning world championships across four decades: the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s; the first boxer to win major world titles in four of the original eight weight classes of boxing.

Pacquiao visited several countries in the Middle East, mostly in the Arabian Peninsula, including the UAE in 2015, where he thanked the people for giving him a warm welcome. He also performed a meet and greet at one of the malls there, causing quite a stir as a sea of people stood outside his location for the chance to meet him.

The retired boxer was considering coming out of retirement, as he revealed that he will be in early talks to return to the ring against French former sparring partner Jaber Zayani in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. However, this fight is still in its early stage.

Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk

Born on October 15, 1989, Anthony Joshua is among the biggest boxers playing the sport today. He’s a two-time undisputed world heavyweight champion holding the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, and IBO titles twice between 2016 and 2021. In 2013, he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his contributions to boxing.

Oleksandr Oleksandrovych Usyk was born in 1987 in Ukraine, he made his first mark in the boxing world at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics, winning gold medals at both events. However, he would go on to unify the biggest titles in boxing in 2021. It all culminated for Usyk in a fight against Joshua in 2021, where the latter lost, leading up to their rematch in 2022.

The most recent event compared to the rest on the list was back in August 2022, when boxers Joshua and Usyk visited Saudi Arabia for one of the most exciting bouts, their riveting rematch for the World Heavyweight Championship.

The rematch dubbed “The Rage On The Red Sea” included titles for the World Boxing Organization, World Boxing Association, and the International Boxing Federation, all on the line at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

Both the British Joshua and Ukrainian Usyk had fans on their feet throughout all of the 12 rounds of the night, ending with a split decision by the judges, giving the final win to Usyk solidifying him as the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

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