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Saudi Arabia clinches martial arts champions contest

Ryan Bader Saudi martial arts Reuters Marketplace/Andreas L Eriksson/Bildbyran
Ryan Bader, the current Bellator heavyweight champion, is one of the martial arts stars who will be fighting in Saudi Arabia in February
  • Fights at Kingdom Arena
  • Stars of PFL versus Bellator MMA
  • Part of Saudi sports drive

Saudi Arabia has signed a contract this week to host the first ever showdown between mixed martial arts champions of the Professional Fighters League (PFL) and Bellator MMA, the American mixed martial arts promotion.

The fights at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena on February 24 are part of the country’s push to be at the forefront of the multi-million dollar combat sports sector.

They will feature seven match-ups between current and former champions in different weight categories, including the Brazilian Renan Ferreira, winner of the 2023 PFL heavyweight championship, versus the American Ryan Bader, the current Bellator heavyweight champion, at heavyweight. 

The deal comes after PFL’s acquisition of Bellator in November. Saudi Arabia’s SRJ Sports Investments, owned by the Public Investment Fund, acquired a minority stake in PFL, reportedly for about $100 million, in August and promised to stage mega-events in Saudi Arabia this year. 

After a signing ceremony between PFL and SRJ in Riyadh on January 17, PFL and Bellator posted separately on the social media site X: “Signed. Sealed. Delivered.” 

“We are delighted to be the host for this first-of-its-kind event, which will see some of the most exciting match-ups and break new ground in the world of combat sports,” said Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), the government department in Saudi Arabia that regulates the country’s entertainment industry.

The GEA did not put a price tag on the deal, which includes pay-per-view television rights. 

Saudi Arabia has been on a drive to bring global sports and entertainment stars to the country, either to work there permanently – as the Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is doing – or for one-off events. 

The government is trying to increase the contribution of sports, entertainment and tourism to GDP as part of its Vision 2030 diversification plans. 

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