Riyadh hosts Asian Paralympic General Assembly on Saturday

Riyadh hosts Asian Paralympic General Assembly on Saturday
Riyadh hosts Asian Paralympic General Assembly on Saturday

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Riyadh: The Professional Fighters League on Tuesday acquired rival combat sports brand, Bellator, in the latest strategic move to loosen the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s chokehold on the mixed martial arts industry.

Backed by SRJ Sports Investments – the Saudi Public Investment Fund entity created to develop the Kingdom’s sports sector – the PFL will gain access to a roster of even more world-class fighters.

For now, Bellator and the PFL will exist as separate brands. However, a showcase event has been pencilled in for 2024 that will see the champions of each show going fist-to-fist to see who is best.

PFL founder Donn Davis told MMA Fighting that the aim was not to overtake the UFC but to become “co-leaders” in the industry.

While UFC President Dana White is currently unlikely to be too concerned about the surging rival, the PFL and Bellator combined forces are the organization’s fiercest opponent yet.

The biggest winners of the deal will be Saudi fight fans. The UFC will finally debut in April, but fans have been starved of top-level MMA competition for too long.

When SRJ acquired a minority share in the PFL in August, it also announced that a PFL Middle East and North Africa league would be launched next year, and future PFL PPV Super Fights would be hosted in Saudi Arabia.

With the Bellator brand in the mix, there is potential for even more live events in the Kingdom and the region.

SRJ’s investment also aims to increase participation in MMA throughout the country and Gulf Cooperation Council member nations. Officials hope that having the stars of the PFL and Bellator on their doorstep will inspire the next generations of fighters and give them a clear path to a professional career.

The PFL plans to build a fanbase and nurture the sport in the region for years to come and with Bellator establish itself as the MMA leader in the MENA region, similar to the ONE Championship, the most popular in Asia.

The UFC is the biggest MMA franchise in the world. The PFL’s acquisition of Bellator will certainly remove a competitor, but pulling level with the sport’s juggernaut will be a more significant challenge. There have been contenders before, but the UFC – a slick operation, well-established over three decades – has smashed them all.

Without a doubt, the UFC has the biggest stars. From Conor McGregor, Islam Makhachev, and Jon Jones to Valentina Shevchenko, Zhang Weili, and Alexa Grasso, the roster is stacked with household names.

The PFL’s biggest and most recognizable star is yet to fight under the MMA banner. Francis Ngannou made a much-publicized switch from the UFC to the PFL but has not stepped into the SmartCage. Instead, he made his boxing debut against heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in Riyadh in October.

There is currently no heavyweight on the roster that can bring the requisite star power for a fight with Ngannou. Great fighters they may be, but they are unlikely to present a must-see event.

However, the PFL reportedly offers much better terms for fighters than the UFC, allowing individuals to seek sponsors independently, giving the roster more control over their earnings – something the UFC does not allow. The option could be tempting for fighters who have relatively short careers in a dangerous sport.

The $100 million investment from SRJ could help the PFL sign more top talent and star fighters, with money being set aside to try and coax the most prominent names to switch allegiances.

The PFL-Bellator deal will send ripples throughout the industry, and watching organizations try to outdo each other is a win-win for the community. One thing is certain: the PFL is fully committed to establishing a MENA brand and delivering multiple live events to the region.

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