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Riyadh Season to host UFC’s Saudi debut

Featured image credit: Saudi General Entertainment Authority

Saudi Arabia has further expanded its growing sports events portfolio with the announcement that it will host its first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card next year.

The Fight Night event will take place on March 2 as part of the Riyadh Season festival. The UFC has signed the deal with the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, with CEO Dana White set to announce competitors for the card in the coming months.

Riyadh Season’s fourth edition is due to commence at the end of the month and already has major sporting events locked in place. It was announced last month that the newly developed Kingdom Arena in Riyadh will host the heavyweight boxing match between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk.

WBC and lineal heavyweight world champion Fury will take on WBO/WBA/IBF champion Usyk in a fight that will crown the division’s first undisputed champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999. Further details, including the official fight date, will be announced in due course, but Kingdom Arena is not expected to open until January.

Riyadh Season has been staged on an annual basis since 2019 incorporating concerts, sporting events, dining experiences and other cultural events. In 2023, Riyadh Season will commence on October 28 with a boxing match between Fury and mixed martial arts (MMA) star Francis Ngannou.

While the UFC is making its first move into Saudi, its now sister organisation, WWE, has long established ties in the Kingdom. WWE has staged shows in Saudi since 2014 and currently holds a deal to host two major events there per year.

Sports and entertainment group Endeavor and World Wrestling Entertainment last month closed a high-profile deal to bring the sports entertainment property and the UFC under the TKO Holdings umbrella.

In the MMA space, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) in August said it was targeting parity with the UFC within the next five years after securing Saudi investment. SRJ Sports Investments, a new vehicle created by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), made its first move through a $100m (£81.3m/€94.1m) investment into the PFL. The wide-ranging deal will see PFL take events to the Kingdom.