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Saudi-backed martial arts league aims for $1bn business

PFL fighters in action in New York. PFL Middle East organisers hope to attract more investment from the region Cooper Neill/PFL
PFL fighters in action in New York. PFL Middle East organisers hope to attract more investment from the region
  • PFL has ‘billion dollar’ dream
  • Mideast arm to launch in 2024
  • Saudi has $100m stake

The Middle East arm of the Professional Fighters League will be a billion-dollar entity within the next decade, according to its founder.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation PFL Middle East is set to launch in the second quarter of 2024, spurred by a reported $100 million cash injection from Saudi Arabia’s SRJ Sports Investments.

It follows PFL Europe being established ahead of the launch of PFL Africa in 2025 and PFL India in 2026.

“They have the audience base and they have the overall revenue ecosystem to be billion-dollar businesses of their own,” Donn Davis, chairman and founder of the PFL told AGBI.

PFL is backed by blue-chip investors including Ares and Luxor Capital, plus a range of National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer team owners.

SRJ Sports Investments, created by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund earlier this year, added its name to that list with the acquisition of a minority stake in the organisation in August.

The US-based PFL is only five years old but is already second behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship in terms of its global popularity within the MMA sector.

“PFL has always had the vision, the product and the abilities,” said Davis. “The only thing that has been stopping us from becoming a co-leader is a capital partner. Now we have the best global industrial-strength one to be able to take the next step.”

He also revealed that the organisation is open to further investment from the region.

“We’ve grown quicker and we’ve made more money for our partners by being a partner-friendly company,” added Davis.

“We want to continue to work with anyone who believes in our vision of being a co-leader in MMA.”

Millions of fans

In the PFL format, individual fighters compete each year in a regular season, which is followed by play-offs and a championship worth $1 million.

The Middle East league will consist of 80 percent local fighters and the PFL is promising to double the salaries of the top competitors involved.

The winners of each regional league will have the opportunity to fight one another for a place in PFL Global.

“It’s the Champions League of MMA,” said Davis.

He explained that the total revenue in MMA stands at $2 billion globally, and while there are 650 million MMA fans in the world, 80 percent are outside the US.

The PFL is planning to plough $20 million into its Middle East venture.

As well as the launch of the regional league, SRJ and PFL will also develop and host the PFL PPV Super Fights pay-per-view mega-events in the kingdom.

This includes the debut fight of 37-year-old former Ulitmate Fighting powerhouse Francis Ngannou, who is set to square up against Tyson Fury in a boxing bout in Riyadh next month.

Davis said: “We’re going to bring the absolute biggest pay-per-view super fight to the region.”

Ngannou’s opponent and the date of the fight is still to be announced.

PFL Europe is broadcast in 120 countries and Davis revealed the Middle East league will enjoy similar exposure. Deals are to be announced by the end of the year.

This will include both linear and streaming distribution throughout the Middle East as well as streaming and broadcast deals outside the region.

“If you’re a fan of MMA you’re going to see the biggest and the best and you’re also going to see the most development of your own local fighters starting out in a way you’ve never seen before,” said Davis.

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