The Saudis Elbow-Strike Their Way into MMA

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Saudi Arabia must have really enjoyed its fight with the PGA.

The kingdom’s $650 billion Public Investment Fund said Wednesday that it’s acquiring a minority stake in the US-based Professional Fighters League, one of the UFC’s middleweight mixed martial arts rivals. Could PFL be the PIF’s new LIV?

Fight Night

Saudi Arabia’s foray into sports — what most level-headed critics have labeled an attempt to ‘whitewash’ its abysmal and ongoing record of human rights abuses — has completely transformed the industry. Its LIV Golf league peeled away scores of top golfers with the promise of massive paydays before eventually merging with the PGA in June. In 2021, it acquired a majority stake in the Premier League’s Newcastle United football club, and earlier this year lured famed football legend Christiano Ronaldo to the Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr with a deal worth potentially up to $200 million per year.

Now it’s setting its sights on the Octagon — in hopes of juicing the PFL’s presence both at home and abroad:

  • The PIF is investing $100 million for a minority stake in the PFL, according to the Financial Times. A funding round last year valued the league, founded by venture capitalist Donn Davis in 2017, at around $500 million.
  • The PFL will begin hosting events in Saudi Arabia, and will launch a Middle Eastern division next year, the league said in a statement. In May, it signed top UFC star Francis Ngannou in what PFL CEO Peter Murray has called the “most lucrative” deal in MMA history, and in January it struck a deal to host pay-per-view fights with Youtuber-turned-fighter Jake Paul.

Check the Score: This acquisition follows a major failure by the Saudi fund: Earlier this summer, it failed to sign superstar French footballer Kylian Mbappe on a one-year deal reportedly worth $776 million. However, the headline still caught the attention of more than a few famous athletes, including NBA stars Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Even in defeat, PIF finds a PR victory. We’ll call it a split decision.