Lexi Thompson poised to make an impact at Aramco Saudi Ladies International

Lexi Thompson poised to make an impact at Aramco Saudi Ladies International
Lexi Thompson poised to make an impact at Aramco Saudi Ladies International

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Riyadh: Saudi Arabia was the “new fight capital of the world” the CEO of the world’s second-largest mixed martial arts organization said ahead of the sport’s first major event in the Kingdom.

The fight meeting in Riyadh on Feb. 24 will also make history as it will be the first to bring together stars from the Professional Fighters League and Bellator, after the former organization acquired the latter in November.

PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions will take place at Kingdom Arena in Boulevard City.

Peter Murray, CEO of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed PFL, said: “I’m really excited about it. When you look at the cards from top to bottom, it is star-studded and stacked, and we’ll see who will be the champion of champions.

“(Saudi Arabia is) the new fight capital of the world, and we’re proud to be part of Riyadh Season and to present the very best of MMA,” he added.

The main event will feature a bout between PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira and his Bellator counterpart Ryan Bader.

Also fighting on the night will be Saudi pro fighter Abdullah Al-Qahtani, taking on India’s Edukondala Rao in the featherweight division.

In the MMA world, the PFL has recently been gaining traction in terms of viewing figures and star power.

While it is still some way off the top spot currently inhabited by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which pioneered the sport and is home to household names such as Conor McGregor, the PFL has been making aggressive moves of its own.

Just a few years after its inaugural event in 2018, its Nielsen viewing figures and worldwide distribution put it second only to the UFC.

Then, in a huge win in May 2023, the upstart organization signed then-UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

Part of Ngannou’s deal with the PFL was to allow him to take on boxing matches outside of the organization, and he will be doing just that when he faces Anthony Joshua in Riyadh on March 8.

The PFL edged out the UFC to become the first international MMA organization to hold an event in the Kingdom after the latter’s inaugural Riyadh event on March 2 was cancelled due to some fighters reportedly not being ready.

On how the PFL was able to secure an event in the Kingdom before its larger competitor, Murray said: “I think it speaks volumes about the PFL’s overall capabilities, our global platform, our roster — it’s second to none — and our commitment to advance and grow the sport around the world, including building a world-class ecosystem in MMA within the Middle East and specifically within Saudi Arabia.”

The PFL’s unique league format means that there is a clear path for fighters to rise through the ranks and compete for the title.

“We’re committed to the sport and advancing and growing the sport, developing future champions and not just staging one-off events,” Murray added.

In August, officials at Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund saw the potential of the organization and bought a minority stake, reportedly worth $100 million, through PIF company SRJ Sports Investment.

Murray said: “We’re proud of our partnership and the investment by SRJ. That investment will fuel the global growth of the PFL, help launch our superfight division, as well as develop the sport throughout the Middle East and within Saudi Arabia specifically.”

On the Kingdom’s push in recent years to develop its sporting sector, he added: “It’s an exciting time in Saudi Arabia, culturally, as well as it relates to sport, and specifically within combat sports. Staging an event in Saudi Arabia just illustrates when you execute an event there, it’s just amplified on a global level.”

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