The UFC will hold a Fight Night event in the Kingdom, ending a longstanding tradition of favoring Abu Dhabi over Dubai.
The UFC is headed to Saudi Arabia for the first time ever in 2024.
For years the promotion has stuck exclusively with their partners in Abu Dhabi, but all that is changing now with a March Fight Night event to wrap up Riyadh Season.
The news came directly from Turki Alalshikh, Saudi Arabia’s Chairman of General Authority for Entertainment. Alashikh is “the guy that’s in charge of the money” according to boxing promoter Bob Arum, and he’s the guy who has set up Tyson Fury’s $200 million payday to fight Francis Ngannou and Oleksandr Usyk in the Kingdom.
“For the first time in the Kingdom.. a historical exceptional night within Riyadh Season,” Alashikh wrote. “On 2nd of March, a UFC Fight Night in collaboration with Riyadh Season.”
For the first time in the Kingdom.. a historical exceptional night within Riyadh Season
— TURKI ALALSHIKH (@Turki_alalshikh) October 11, 2023
A press release said “The event will feature a variety of the UFC’s most successful and internationally known fighters. UFC CEO Dana White will announce participating athletes in the coming months.”
“The agreement for this event was signed in the presence of His Excellency Advisor Turki Alalshikh, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, as well as Dave Lewis, SVP of Event Operations, Government & Regulatory Affairs for UFC.”
“Riyadh Season’s fourth edition will kick off at he nd of October, attracting visitors from around the world to Saudi Arabia’s capital during the winter months,” the statement continued. “The Season offers a multitude of concerts, exhibitions, dining experiences, and unique entertainment events, with the participation of renowned celebrities and leading brands.”
It’s not too shocking to see the UFC partner up with Saudi Arabia. The country has become a massive player in sports, splashing cash everywhere and drawing top names to compete for them. There was simply too much money on the table for the UFC to stay out of the market.
The move is interesting, though, given the UFC’s extremely close relations with Abu Dhabi. There is a more than a little jockeying going on in the UAE between the two Emirates for power, prestige, and status in the region and around the world. UFC being on ‘Team Abu Dhabi’ has been a given since they purchased a silent 10% stake in the promotion back in 2010 for over $150 million.
Abu Dhabi also saved the UFC from defaulting on their ESPN deal during the COVID-19 pandemic, setting up the Fight Island bubble and allowing the promotion to keep broadcasting shows.
UFC parent company Endeavor has implied they were interested in getting some of that Saudi money circulating in the sports space, and the WWE has had connections with the Kingdom for years. With WWE and UFC merging under TKO, those connections clearly came to fruition with this upcoming March event.
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