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‘Historic’ night predicted as Mixed Martial Arts heads for Saudi Arabia

Riyadh will host PFL v Bellator on Saturday.

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Professional Fighters League founder Donn Davis has predicted a “historic” night ahead of the first Mixed Martial Arts event to take place in Saudi Arabia.

PFL’s title holders go up against belt holders from Bellator in a never-seen-before night of champions in Riyadh on Saturday.

This comes after the PFL acquired Bellator in November 2023.

Davis is relishing the opportunity of becoming the first MMA promotion to tie a deal with the sovereign state in a sold out event.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Davis said: “It’s historic. It’s the first-ever MMA event to take place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we get to be a part of something historic in sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia is the future of combat sports.

“We’re a company of yes and there is another company out there who is the company of no and they can do what they want. We try to do things different and put the fans first.

“It’s a big deal, this is our first primetime event and media deal on ESPN. Acquiring Bellator has also been a big deal and now this is a big step in us becoming a co-leader in MMA and we’re excited for Saturday.

“This is a collaboration between our partners in Saudi Arabia and us at the PFL.”

The inaugural event will feature the likes of PFL’s Ray Cooper III, Thiago Santos and Clay Collard as well as Bellator’s Patricio Pitbull, Yoel Romero, Ryan Bader and Johnny Eblen.

Davis compared the format to an NBA All-Star game, insisting PFL’s putting the fans first mindset helped create the idea.

“We wanted to do the first event in Saudi but only if it was a great big event,” Davis added.

“We came up with an idea which has never been done before in combat sports. Champions against champions. PFL v Bellator.

“It’s like an All-Stars game which has real stakes where the players and athletes really care.

“We have big prize money with an extra belt where there’s a ring inside the belt. This is a big card with 12 current or former champions, six ultra champion bouts, this has never been done before.

“People are asking what if all the Bellator fighters win? Then they all win. We try and do things the fans want to see.”

PFL have worked alongside Saudi adviser Turki Alalshikh, who has helped put on major boxing events including the likes of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury.

When asked about his experience of working with leading figures in Saudi, Davis said: “Everybody here. Turki, the minister of sport (Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal), the PIF team, they all want to win and excel and that is the shared value. It’s been a pleasure.”

Human Rights campaigners did not share the optimism, however.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International UK’s Foreign Policy Adviser, said:
“Mixed martial arts is just the latest sport to succumb to the lure of Saudi Arabian money and this should be seen as yet more Saudi sportswashing designed to distract attention from the country’s appalling human rights record.

“As we’ve said about footballers, boxers, golfers and tennis players who’ve gone before them, we’d like to see all MMA competitors and backroom staff at this event being prepared to speak about the importance of human rights issues.”

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