Mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced its first-ever event in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to be held on June 22.

In 2023 UFC initially declared that it would stage an event from its Fight Night series in Saudi on March 2, however, that event (UFC Fight Night 238) was relocated to the UFC’s Apex facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, reportedly due to the low stature of the fighters that had been slated for the card.

The newly announced event has already been unveiled as having more star power than Fight Night 238 had, with the headline bout seeing former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker facing off against undefeated Russian fighter Khamzat Chimaev.

UFC president Dana White confirmed the headline on social media, alongside other major bouts such as Sergei Pavlovich vs Alexander Volkov, and added that the event would be broadcast in the US on the Disney-owned free-to-air TV network ABC.

The event will be the sixth UFC card to be broadcast live on ABC, with the first coming in January 2021, courtesy of the competition’s US broadcast deal with sports network ESPN, which is also owned by Disney.

UFC’s current deal with ESPN was first agreed in 2018 and runs through 2025, with a reported annual value of over $200 million.

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The Middle East is a lucrative market for the UFC but it has never entered Saudi before. UFC has thus far hosted 18 events in the neighboring UAE, however, as it became a primary location for the MMA promotion during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund the PIF is a heavy investor in rival MMA promotion PFL, UFC’s cemented position as MMA market leader combined with the drive to host martial arts events in Saudi as part of the Riyadh Season sports festival means that UFC will regardless finally enter the country’s burgeoning sports market.

The announcement from White of the Saudi Arabia card coincided with the UFC’s announcement of its new partnership with the tourist board of Western Australia, Tourism WA.

The multi-year deal will see two UFC events come to the city of Perth over the course of the deal, the first of which will be UFC 305, one of the promotion’s top-line numbered events, which will take place on August 17, 2024, at Perth’s RAC Arena.

UFC has staged events in Perth twice, with the first being UFC 221 on February 11, 2018, while the second, UFC 284, took place last February.

At the time, UFC 284 broke the Australian arena record for highest-grossing ticket sales to any event.

A number of UFC’s top stars hail from Australia, including the aforementioned Robert Whittaker and former UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.

UFC is broadcast in Australia by ESPN, with which it renewed its rights deal in February.

Western Australia premier Roger Cook stated of the new partnership with UFC: “The return of UFC to Perth in 2024 is a major coup for Western Australia, following the roaring success of UFC 284 that injected millions into our economy last year.

“UFC has proven to be a huge drawcard with a dedicated fan base, and we expect to see thousands of out-of-state visitors travel to Perth to attend this blockbuster.

“Western Australia continues to strengthen its reputation for hosting world-class sporting events, and with UFC boasting the best of the best in MMA, UFC 305 represents yet another high-caliber spectacle in our events calendar.”

Professional wrestling promotion WWE, which is owned by UFC parent company TKO Group, hosted its first-ever premium live event in Western Australia in Perth on February 24, 2024, with Elimination Chamber: Perth.

The success of that event, which drew 52,590 to the city’s Optus Stadium, is a likely driver behind the establishment of the UFC’s new relationship with Tourism WA.