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Fighting talk: How UFC rival eyes expansion in the Middle East

The US-based Professional Fighters’ League has revealed plans to expand its operations overseas, with the Middle East a potential venue for forthcoming fights.

Launched in 2018, the league has secured the number two market position in the world in MMA, with its season-style format, including play-offs and an action-packed world championship event.

CEO Peter Murray speaks on how the PFL are currently exploring the possibility of staging the event in the region, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE potential venues for their international qualifier series: “We're absolutely planning to stage events outside of the US; we're excited about that, we're looking forward to that. We are contemplating and in conversation around our championship in '21, to host our pinnacle sports and entertainment event, our world championship, where we have six world title fights in one night, where each champion across weight class earns their belt and a US$1 million cheque.

“We're in conversations around the world, including the Middle East. We have a number of options that we're considering and, should the COVID landscape permit it, I believe our first event internationally will be our championship in '21.

“There are a couple of regions, Saudi Arabia we are excited about the possibilities there. We'll be in a position come the new year to make an announcement.”

The PFL, which closed a US$50 million round of funding earlier this year to invest in tech, content and fighter signings, counts actor, comedian and entrepreneur Kevin Hart among its group of investors from the world of sports, media, entertainment and business.

The league covers over 160 countries and boasts a network of 450 million fans across the world. While fighters in the PFL come from 25 different countries.

“That's a real focus of the league to give the top fighters from around the world a global stage, to represent themselves as well as representing their countries,” said Murray.

“That's a big part of the experience of what the fans get from the PFL. It's Olympic-style.”

Murray explained that the competition differs from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) due to its season-style format, as well as the fact that they use a ‘smart cage’, which provides real-time fighter data and fighter analytics, including measuring punch-strike speed and, for the coming schedule starting in April next year, kick speed.

“We are really leading our efforts with innovation tied to propriety technology,” he said. “We're measuring athlete performance, providing context in those live situations, those live fights for fans.”

He also revealed that talks are underway with “top regional sports carriers” in the Middle East to broadcast live events from the 2021 schedule as well as archive and original programming, with an announcement on that expected early in the new year.

Author: James Parker