When the members of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority set their minds on making the country the new home of boxing, the sole aim seemed to be to tempt the world’s best fighters into taking the biggest fights available.

The plan’s reach has expanded rapidly, as unheralded fighters such as Gavin Gwynne and Mark Chamberlain are now being invited out to the Middle East and handed the opportunity to change their lives.

Gwynne spent years battling his way to the British and Commonwealth lightweight titles, waiting for a major promoter to throw its weight behind him. Chamberlain has patiently reeled off knockout after knockout, and has almost taken up residency at London’s historic York Hall.

The two have fought their way to the top of the British lightweight division and have grown increasingly used to hearing each other’s names over the past few months. But they never would have imagined that their paths would eventually converge in Saudi Arabia.

Gwynne and Chamberlain will have the boxing world’s attention when they meet in the ring Friday in Riyadh, on the undercard of the heavyweight fight between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou – though neither see it as their final destination. Rather, it is a crossroads.

The winner will likely move on to a big domestic showdown with unbeaten and exciting British champion Sam Noakes. The loser will need to retreat back away from the spotlight and rebuild.

“We haven’t taken Gavin lightly,” said the heavy-handed Chamberlain (14-0, 10 KOs) at Monday’s glitzy red carpet arrival event. “I don’t take any opponent lightly, but Gavin Gwynne is a big step up for me at this point in my career. I’ve had 14 fights now, and I think it’s the right fight at the right time for me to push on.”

If Chamberlain is stepping up, Gwynne (17-2-1, 5 KOs) has been campaigning at domestic-title level for some time. It has been almost five years since he lost to Joe Cordina in his first crack at the British title, and he eventually won it at the third time of asking. Gwynne is used to boxing young, unbeaten fighters, but – until recently – he has done it without much fanfare. In fact, he almost turned his back on the sport at one point.

“Just after I beat Sean McComb in lockdown, I couldn’t get any fights,” Gwynne said. “I had a word with my wife and said that I wasn’t earning enough money and would have to go back to work. I got a call for a fight, and then it’s changed my life. Look where I am now.

“It’s all about grit and determination. Not being spoon-fed opponents and always going into the backyard of these opponents is paying off. I’m glad I stuck with it.”

Both fighters are tall for the weight, but that is where the similarities end. Chamberlain carries fight-ending power in his left hand, is dangerous to head and body, and seems to drop every opponent he faces. Gwynne is the battle-hardened workhorse. He sets a high pace and challenges opponents to keep up with him.

Only the talented Cordina and big-punching James Tennyson have been able to stop Gwynne’s forward march so far, although Italian veteran Emiliano Marsili gave it a good go last December. The previously unbeaten 47-year-old outboxed Gwynne for six rounds of their European title fight, but he couldn’t maintain his good start and eventually retired on his stool. Chamberlain saw that fight and took plenty of encouragement from it.

“I won’t go off of that performance, but if he’d been in there with me that night and that had happened, I’d have been all over him,” Chamberlain said of Gwynne. “Up until the stoppage, Gavin was getting punched all around the ring. I’ll say it how it is: He was getting beat. He might have had an off night, but he won’t be able to do that on Friday with me.”

Gwynne may not have been in the ring with a fighter who has Chamberlain’s exact skill set, but there is very little he hasn’t seen. The 33-year-old Welshman won’t change anything, and will commit himself to his usual aggressive game plan to test whether Chamberlain has the fitness and heart to keep him off. 

“I’ve boxed a lot of southpaws, but he’s a come-forward southpaw who punches a bit, so I haven’t boxed anyone like him,” Gwynne said. “But I have sparred thousands of rounds with fighters like him. It’s nothing.

“I’m probably the underdog going into this fight, but every time I’m the underdog, I always win.

“It’s a war, isn’t it? Everyone wants to see a war, and blood and guts. I’m up for it.”

The declaration was music to Chamberlain’s ears. The 25-year-old from Portsmouth has the style and power to make an eye-catching impression this week, and he is determined not to let the moment pass him by.

“I’ll fight whoever they put in front of me,” Chamberlain said. “I won’t shy away from anything, hence why we’re here fighting Gavin. I’m all for it. I don’t expect it to be easy, but I do expect to come out with a victory.”