The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, has announced its first-ever event to be hosted by Saudi Arabia.
Set to take place on March 2, 2024, the event will be titled UFC Fight Night 236, confirming it as part of the company’s “Fight Night” format of events.
Fight Night events are available to stream in the US on ESPN+ and traditionally have less prominent fight cards than the larger “numbered events” such as the recent “UFC 293: Adesanya vs. Strickland” card and are strictly pay-per-view.
The UFC has hosted a number of events in the Middle East before, namely in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where it has staged 17 events.
This is set to increase to 18 with the upcoming “UFC 294: Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2” event set to be held at the city’s Etihad Arena, confirming UFC’s commitment to staging events in the region.
The company’s recent merger with professional; wrestling promotion WWE may have aided in securing an event in Saudi, given that the WWE already stages its annual “Crown Jewel” event in Riyadh as part of a ten-year partnership with Saudi Arabia.
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Although neither the event card nor the venue has been confirmed, UFC Fight Night 236 is reportedly likely to take place in the Saudi Capital of Riyadh, given that it is set to coincide with “Riyadh Season”, an annual cultural and sports festival held in the city.
This announcement also deepens Saudi Arabia’s ties with the world of combat sport. The kingdom is set to host the long-awaited boxing matchup between former UFC Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannnou and current World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
Ngannou is signed to the Professional Fighters League, UFC’s closest rival, as part of its “Pay-Per-View Superfight” division and will make his debut in Saudi following the Fury fight.
The division, as well as the company’s Middle East focused expansion league PFL MENA, has been directly funded with investment from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia through its sports arm, SRJ Sports Investments.
Fury will also return to Riyadh following the bout for a heavyweight title unification fight with Oleksander Usyk, and from October 20 to October 30, the city will be hosting the World Combat Games.
The UFC’s announcement of the Saudi Arabia event comes amid a wave of controversy for the company as the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) announced that it would be ending its partnership with the promotion.
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart stated that the UFC “did an about-face” in contract negotiations and would be going in a different direction, driven by the situation regarding the status of Irish fighter Conor McGregor.
McGregor is an icon of the sport and is angling for a return to the octagon however his re-entry into the USADA testing pool, announced yesterday (October 11) would require him to wait six months and submit two clean drugs tests before he can fight again.
The UFC’s unwillingness to keep a top star on the sidelines for that long, may reportedly have contributed to the UFC allowing the contract to expire, as it will on January 1, 2024.