UFC legend Randy Couture previously revealed that he would be meeting with Saudi Arabia’s royal family to help broker a deal with the PFL. A few months later, and things have been made official.

After their previous massive — and controversial — investments in golf and football, money from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is now finding its way into mixed martial arts as well.

Saudi Arabia buys minor ownership stake in PFL

As announced by both parties, SRJ Sports Investments, a new vehicle created by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), has purchased a “minor equity ownership stake” with the Professional Fighters League.

Apart from now owning part of the PFL, Saudi Arabia’s PIF will also be investing in a new PFL MENA league that is targeted to launch in the second quarter of 2024.

With PFL Europe and now PFL Mena, the promotion announced future expansion plans to host more international leagues and regional tournaments to create a “Champions League of MMA” by 2026. It’s a plan and format obviously tailored from football, where Saudi Arabia has already invested billions in.

According to a (paywalled) report from the Financial Times, the PFL investment deal is worth $100 million.

A follow up from Sportcal reported that Saudi Arabia also plans to eventually “host and bankroll a ‘substantial number’ of PFL PPV events,” with SRJ Chairman Bander Bin Mogren now sitting on the PFL board.

Francis Ngannou, who is PFL’s biggest MMA signing, already has ties with Saudi Arabia. Prior to this new foray into MMA, the country has also spent a lot of money to host lucrative boxing fights, including Ngannou’s upcoming crossover match up with Tyson Fury in October.

Logo of PFL and Saudi Arabia's SRJ

PFL’s finances

The Saudi Arabia investment is likely a welcome addition for the promotion, who has been spending a lot of money in recent years. Apart from fighters’ negotiated purses, PFL pays out $1 million for tournament winners of each weight class, which drives up the company’s costs.

Bloody Elbow has obtained financial details from the Professional Fighters League’s own lender presentation, which shows the promotion previously estimating to have lost $46.7 million in 2021 alone. This is from an estimated $10.1 million in revenue, and $56.8 million in expenses that year.

Those expenses are only going to rise as they’ve been looking to sign more high profile free agents like Ngannou, and push through with their other super-fight plans.

June 16, 2023, Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Atlanta, GA - June 16: Francis Ngannou speaks with Randy Couture, Sean O'Connell, and Kenny Florian during PFL Atlanta 5 on June 16, 2023 at the Overtime Elite Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta USA - ZUMAp175 20230616_zsa_p175_124 Copyright: xAaronxLitzx
ZUMA / IMAGO / Aaron Litz

Saudi Arabia denies sportswashing claims

Aside from their recent investments in boxing and now MMA, Saudi Arabia has also been spending billions upon billions in other sports.

The Public Investment Fund also previously purchased football club Newcastle United and led the merger between their LIV golf and the PGA Tour. The government has also spent an estimated $1 billion recruiting top football stars, including Christiano Ronaldo who reportedly received $220 million annually to play for Saudi club Al Nassr. They also host F-1 races and WWE events.

“It is difficult to imagine how the vast majority of its investments will yield financial dividends,” long time Bloody Elbow editor Karim Zidan wrote about Saudi Arabia. “Then again, it was never about profit margins.”

Many believe these massive investments that get international fanfare are mainly part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to “sportswash” their terrible human rights record.

As reported in-depth by Zidan, Saudi Arabia also typically includes non-disparagement clauses in their deals to make sure that people involved don’t — and can’t — say anything critical about the country.

Naturally, the Kingdom denies all of this. According to the same report on PFL from the Financial Times: “Saudi officials insist it is an important plank in a plan to diversify the economy beyond oil revenues while attracting tourism and investment.”

Additional reporting from John S. Nash

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About the author
Anton Tabuena
Anton Tabuena

Anton Tabuena is the Managing Editor for Bloody Elbow. He’s been covering MMA and combat sports since 2009, and has also fought in MMA, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

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