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Saudi Arabia pins down $100m MMA investment

A match between Abdullah al Qahtani and David Zelner in MMA league PFL, which Saudi Arabia has invested in Cooper Neill/PFL
A match between Abdullah al Qahtani, right, and David Zelner. Saudi Arabia has invested $100m in the Professional Fighters League
  • SRJ enters Professional Fighters League
  • PFL Mena to launch in 2024
  • League broadcasts to 150 countries

Saudi Arabia’s SRJ Sports Investments has acquired a minority stake in mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation the Professional Fighters League, reported to be worth $100 million.

Founded in 2018, the PFL is second behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in terms of its global popularity.

PFL Mena will begin in 2024 having launched in Europe last year.

“This investment aims to nurture the local and regional talent pool in martial arts, promote gender equality in sport, and bring new opportunities directly to Saudi Arabia and the wider Mena region,” SRJ chairman, Bander Bin Mogren, said.

Individual fighters compete each year in a regular PFL season then have playoffs and a championship.

With competitors from all over the world, the league broadcasts and streams its bouts to 150 countries and has more than 20 international media distribution partners.

Saudi Arabia already boasts two fighters in the PFL: Abdullah al Qahtani and Mostafa Rashed Neda.

“The Saudis see martial arts as a sport where they can not only host events and attract global interest, but also develop Saudi talent to be competitive at elite levels on the global stage,” Ben Gordon, a sports diplomacy expert at Dentons Global Advisors, said.

Ambitious spending

PFL is backed by blue-chip investors including Ares and Luxor Capital, plus a range of NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS team owners.

Abu Dhabi also has strong MMA ties. The UFC signed a five-year deal with the Department of Culture and Tourism in 2019, which guaranteed at least one title fight in the emirate each year.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministries of Sport and Tourism have set an ambitious target for sports to contribute 0.6 percent of GDP by 2030, up from the current 0.2 percent, with the purpose of raising international visitor numbers.

The Saudi Pro League has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on football stars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar.

And the kingdom’s $650 billion sovereign wealth fund PIF launched the LIV Golf circuit last year, competing with the established PGA Tour.

The two tours ended a lengthy legal battle in June by deciding to merge their commercial interests.

PIF governor Yasir Al Rumayyan was announced as chairman of the LIV-PGA partnership. He also chairs Newcastle United, the English Premier League football club purchased by the fund in 2021.

WBC heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury is due to fight against former UFC champion Francis Ngannou in Riyadh on October 28.

And last week it was announced that a five-year deal had been signed for Jeddah to host the Next Gen ATP Finals, the end-of-season tennis tournament for the best under-21 men.

Jeddah also hosts Formula 1.