What is it with heavyweight boxers and brutal dictators? First we had the “Rumble in the Jungle” when a kleptocrat ruler of Zaire spent $10 million hosting Muhammad Ali’s defeat of George Foreman, probably the most famous bout of all time.

A year later in October 1975 there was the “Thrilla in Manila” where Ali picked up another $4m from another dictator, in the Philippines, this time to slug it out with Joe Frazier.

Now, 44 years on, we have the “Clash in the Dunes” which, even though it doesn’t rhyme, is firmly in the tradition of world heavyweight title fights with catchy titles being held in unusual places ruled by not very nice people.

Forget Madison Square Garden or the O2 Centre, the re-match tonight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr is taking place in … Saudi Arabia.

Well, I suppose if you had to pick someone in the world today who was cut from the same cloth as Mobutu Sese Seko and Ferdinand Marcos then the obvious choice would be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Joshua’s British promoter, Eddie Hearn, clearly didn’t see the irony when he proclaimed the fight could be as big as the two Ali contests.

Dodging questions on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, he said they were “well beyond my head as a sports organiser” – convenient when your fighter’s getting £66m to fight in Diriyah.

“Sportswashing” is how repressive states use the lure and excitement of glamorous events, like boxing fights, to remove stains on their reputation and pretend everything in the garden is rosy.

It’s a modern term for something which has been going on for centuries. The Romans used gladiator fights to distract the populus from their poverty in the hope they would not revolt.

Hitler used it at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and in South Africa the apartheid regime were continually trying to get “rebel teams” to tour there to present a facade of normality.

In 1974 the “Rumble in the Jungle” took place in Zaire against a backdrop of widespread human rights violations with Seke accumulating $15bn while his country was mired in extreme poverty.

Anyone who challenged his regime was put to death and on the night of the fight Seke rounded up 1,000 criminals and held them under the stadium. To ensure they didn’t get out of line, he had 100 of them executed.

The “Thrilla in Manila” was held in a country which had already been under martial law for three years. Ferdinand Marcos looted his country’s economy of billions of dollars for the benefit of himself and his family, and used oppression against political opposition.

Under his rule the despot racked up 35,000 torture cases, 70,000 incarcerations, 50,000 enforced disappearances and 3,257 murders.

In terms of brutality, the modern-day equivalent is Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest “sportswasher”.

According to the CIA, its de-facto ruler, MBS, most likely ordered the murder of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the Yemen War, in its fifth year, is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world today. Up to 70,000 people have been killed, mostly Yemenis and two-thirds of these from Saudi-led air strikes. Millions are on the brink of famine.

Then there are the stonings, the public executions and the continued incarcerations of women rights activists peacefully demanding an end to the oppressive male guardianship system.

To deflect from all the bad publicity this generated, Saudi Arabia began promoting huge World Wrestling Entertainment events in 2014, with the first televised one in April 2018, called “The Greatest Royal Rumble”.

Last year tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal came under pressure from human rights groups to pull out of an exhibition match in Jeddah just after Khashoggi’s murder.

The Italian Supercoppa soccer match went ahead in Saudi Arabia in January before the arrival of the European golf tour – all with the cries of foul from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch ringing in their ears. For each event players have to weigh their consciences with their bank balances, and boxing is no different.

Amnesty’s UK head of campaigns Felix Jakens urged Joshua, from Watford, to “inform himself of the human rights situation”. But Hearn was in no mood for second thoughts, suggesting the negative publicity could be good because it would make the fight bigger, “an event of extraordinary magnitude”. For magnitude, read pay-per-view hits.

It’s not just human rights campaigners who have hit out. Some in the boxing world are also calling it a “low-blow for the sport” and the victory of “money over morals”.

Ruiz, the Mexican-American champion after beating Joshua in June, initially bridled at the Saudi venue – not because of human rights concerns, but because he wanted a re-match on home soil. He had to cave in, however, when it was pointed out he had signed a contract to fight a re-match – and was just now being informed where it would take place.

Hearn dismissed Ruiz’ security concerns saying: “You gotta understand, this is a government, royal family affair, where everything will be absolute perfection – perfection.”

In other words, stand by for some serious “sportswashing” by the Saudi state.

Anthony Harwood is a former foreign editor at the Daily Mail