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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Saudi Sports Profile Grows Further With First-Ever UFC Event

  • MMA property set to bring event to country in March
  • Newly finalized deal adds to efforts in other sports such as soccer, golf, and boxing
Charles Oliveira (red gloves) and Islam Makhachev (blue gloves) during UFC 280.
Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

Saudi Arabia’s closely watched and hotly debated sports profile will grow even bigger next year when UFC brings an event to the country.

Now part of the newly formed TKO Group Holdings, UFC has signed a deal to bring a Fight Night to Riyadh on March 2. The event will be part of Riyadh Season, a state-sponsored annual sports and entertainment festival coinciding with the local winter. The latest iteration begins later this month with a boxing match between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou. 

This will be UFC’s first event in Saudi Arabia following 18 prior events in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, including the pandemic-era Fight Island. The agreement also extends a fast-growing international push for both UFC and its sister entity in TKO, WWE. 

Participating fighters in the UFC event will be announced later, and TKO sources pledged a “stacked card.” 

Developed with the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, the UFC deal advances a fast-growing sports profile for Saudi Arabia that includes the country’s own, high-spending domestic soccer league, the country’s involvement in LIV Golf, and most recently, a fervent bid to host the 2034 World Cup. 

Saudi Arabia’s SRJ Sports Investments, part of the country’s Public Investment Fund, also holds a minority stake in UFC competitor PFL.

TKO sources also said the Saudi Arabia event in March will likely be the first of many there for UFC in the coming years — but the latest deal will also place further attention and scrutiny on Saudi Arabia’s widely rebuked human rights record.

WWE has held events in Saudi Arabia for nearly a decade and will be in Riyadh next month for its Crown Jewel event. UFC’s presence there will continue a stance by both properties to be generally apolitical.

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