Saudi-backed PFL set to shake up MMA scene in Middle East, beyond

For now, Bellator and the PFL will exist as separate brands (X/@BellatorMMA)
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Updated 22 November 2023
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Saudi-backed PFL set to shake up MMA scene in Middle East, beyond

  • Acquisition of rival brand Bellator cements league’s status in sport, but work needed to match UFC

Riyadh: The Professional Fighters League on Tuesday acquired rival combat sports brand, Bellator, in the latest strategic move to loosen the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s chokehold on the mixed martial arts industry.

Backed by SRJ Sports Investments – the Saudi Public Investment Fund entity created to develop the Kingdom’s sports sector – the PFL will gain access to a roster of even more world-class fighters.

For now, Bellator and the PFL will exist as separate brands. However, a showcase event has been pencilled in for 2024 that will see the champions of each show going fist-to-fist to see who is best.

PFL founder Donn Davis told MMA Fighting that the aim was not to overtake the UFC but to become “co-leaders” in the industry.

While UFC President Dana White is currently unlikely to be too concerned about the surging rival, the PFL and Bellator combined forces are the organization’s fiercest opponent yet.

The biggest winners of the deal will be Saudi fight fans. The UFC will finally debut in April, but fans have been starved of top-level MMA competition for too long.

When SRJ acquired a minority share in the PFL in August, it also announced that a PFL Middle East and North Africa league would be launched next year, and future PFL PPV Super Fights would be hosted in Saudi Arabia.

With the Bellator brand in the mix, there is potential for even more live events in the Kingdom and the region.

SRJ’s investment also aims to increase participation in MMA throughout the country and Gulf Cooperation Council member nations. Officials hope that having the stars of the PFL and Bellator on their doorstep will inspire the next generations of fighters and give them a clear path to a professional career.

The PFL plans to build a fanbase and nurture the sport in the region for years to come and with Bellator establish itself as the MMA leader in the MENA region, similar to the ONE Championship, the most popular in Asia.

The UFC is the biggest MMA franchise in the world. The PFL’s acquisition of Bellator will certainly remove a competitor, but pulling level with the sport’s juggernaut will be a more significant challenge. There have been contenders before, but the UFC – a slick operation, well-established over three decades – has smashed them all.

Without a doubt, the UFC has the biggest stars. From Conor McGregor, Islam Makhachev, and Jon Jones to Valentina Shevchenko, Zhang Weili, and Alexa Grasso, the roster is stacked with household names.

The PFL’s biggest and most recognizable star is yet to fight under the MMA banner. Francis Ngannou made a much-publicized switch from the UFC to the PFL but has not stepped into the SmartCage. Instead, he made his boxing debut against heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in Riyadh in October.

There is currently no heavyweight on the roster that can bring the requisite star power for a fight with Ngannou. Great fighters they may be, but they are unlikely to present a must-see event.

However, the PFL reportedly offers much better terms for fighters than the UFC, allowing individuals to seek sponsors independently, giving the roster more control over their earnings – something the UFC does not allow. The option could be tempting for fighters who have relatively short careers in a dangerous sport.

The $100 million investment from SRJ could help the PFL sign more top talent and star fighters, with money being set aside to try and coax the most prominent names to switch allegiances.

The PFL-Bellator deal will send ripples throughout the industry, and watching organizations try to outdo each other is a win-win for the community. One thing is certain: the PFL is fully committed to establishing a MENA brand and delivering multiple live events to the region.


Silva strikes late as Man City sink Chelsea to reach FA Cup final

Updated 57 min 42 sec ago
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Silva strikes late as Man City sink Chelsea to reach FA Cup final

  • Pep Guardiola’s side were second best for long periods of the semifinal
  • Chelsea wasted a string of chances before Silva delivered the knockout blow six minutes from full-time

LONDON: Bernardo Silva fired Manchester City back into the FA Cup final as the Portugal midfielder’s late strike sealed the holders’ 1-0 win against Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were second best for long periods of the semifinal, but Chelsea wasted a string of chances before Silva delivered the knockout blow six minutes from full-time.
Shaken by their Champions League quarter-final loss against Real Madrid on penalties in midweek, City took a while to shake off the gloom from the end of their treble bid.
They were hampered by the absence of Norway striker Erling Haaland after he suffered a knock against Real, with Julian Alvarez unable to make an impact as his replacement.
City were bailed out by Chelsea striker Nicolas Jackson’s profligacy and Guardiola will hope the hard-fought success provides a timely lift as they chase a Premier League and FA Cup double.
City face Manchester United or Coventry, who meet on Sunday, in the final on May 25 and will retain the Premier League title if they win their last six games.
It will be City’s 13th final in the competition and potentially a repeat of last year’s 2-1 win over United in the Wembley Manchester derby.
Beaten by Liverpool in the League Cup final in February, Chelsea’s wait to win their first domestic trophy since the 2018 FA Cup goes on for another season.
It was a bitter blow for Blues boss Mauricio Pochettino, who has endured a difficult first season in charge and remains without silverware in England.
The semifinal was billed as in-form Chelsea forward Cole Palmer’s chance to punish his old club for selling him to the Blues in September.
Guardiola said Palmer was asking to leave City for two years before he eventually joined Chelsea, where he has scored 23 goals in all competitions this, including 11 in his last six games.
Palmer, who scored four times in Monday’s 6-0 rout of Everton, was a constant threat for Chelsea, but ultimately it was his team’s lack of killer instinct that proved decisive.
Palmer’s pin-point pass sent Jackson racing into the City area early on, but his strike lacked the accuracy to beat Stefan Ortega in a miss that foreshadowed Chelsea’s fate.
Jackson wasted a golden opportunity to give Chelsea the goal their dominance deserved.
Enzo Fernandez’s pass split the City defense, but Jackson opted to go around Ortega rather than shoot and the chance was gone as Nathan Ake scurried back to clear.
Playing with more purpose and quality than City, Pochettino’s team threatened again as Palmer cleverly shimmied past Rodri for a low drive from 12 yards that was well saved by Ortega.
It was the first time lethargic City had failed to muster a first half shot on target since a game against Everton in February.
Jackson, in the midst of a terrible debut season, was put clean through on goal by Conor Gallagher immediately after the interval.
But the much-maligned striker’s shot was palmed away by Ortega, who clawed away a close-range header from Jackson seconds later.
City finally tested Djordje Petrovic through Phil Foden’s snap-shot, but the Serbian was equal to his powerful strike.
Chelsea appealed in vain for a penalty when Jack Grealish’s arm blocked Palmer’s free-kick, while Moises Caicedo was fortunate to escape a second booking for a crunching tackle that forced Grealish to limp off.
Grealish’s replacement Jeremy Doku drew an immediate save from Petrovic with a near-post blast.
Doku’s presence lifted City and the Belgian played a part as they stole the victory in the 84th minute.
Advancing with intent toward the Chelsea area, Doku slipped a pass to Kevin de Bruyne, whose low cross was pushed out by Petrovic to Silva for a close-range finish that deflected home as Guardiola punched the air in relief.


Mueller bags brace, Kane hits goal 33 as Bayern thump Union

Updated 20 April 2024
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Mueller bags brace, Kane hits goal 33 as Bayern thump Union

  • Just a week after Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen broke Bayern’s 11-year title run, the visitors were dominant and clinical in the German capital
  • Mueller, playing his 470th Bundesliga game for Bayern, scored both of his goals in the second half, either side of a strike from Tel

BERLIN: Harry Kane claimed his 33rd league goal of the season and Thomas Mueller scored twice as Bayern Munich hammered Union Berlin 5-1 away in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Just a week after Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen broke Bayern’s 11-year title run, the visitors were dominant and clinical in the German capital.
Kane blasted in an excellent free-kick and laid on a second-half goal for Mathys Tel and has now 51 goal involvements in all competitions this season, his best-ever mark.
In the Bundesliga, the England captain is eight shy of Robert Lewandowski’s single season record with four games remaining.
Bayern rested star attacking midfielder Jamal Musiala after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Arsenal sent them through to the final four of the Champions League but they had no difficulty creating chances against the Union defense.
Handed a rare start, French teenager Tel set up Leon Goretzka’s 29th-minute opener, with Kane scoring a superb free-kick in first-half stoppage time.
Mueller, playing his 470th Bundesliga game for Bayern, scored both of his goals in the second half, either side of a strike from Tel.
Union, who faced Real Madrid and Napoli in the Champions League this season, pulled one back late through Yorbe Vertessen, have now won just one of their past eight and sit three points clear of the relegation places.
Earlier , RB Leipzig tightened their grip on fourth place, the final guaranteed Champions League spot, with a 2-1 win at Heidenheim as Lois Openda scored his 23rd goal of the season.
Leipzig striker Benjamin Sesko opened the scoring shortly before half-time, pouncing on some disorganized defending from the home side for his 10th league goal this term.
Heidenheim, who have beaten Bayern Munich and drawn with Dortmund twice in their first season in the top division, struck back with 20 minutes remaining, Nikola Dovedan heading in following a free-kick.
Leipzig, who are in a battle with Champions League semifinalists Dortmund for fourth place and host them next week, grabbed the winner with five minutes remaining when Openda tapped in a Mohamed Simakan pass.
Leipzig sit three points clear of Dortmund who host champions Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday. Fourth place is guaranteed to play Champions League but fifth could also qualify due to the strong performances of German sides in the competition this season.
RB captain Willi Orban was pleased his side made it through an “incredibly difficult match,” telling Sky “plenty of top sides have dropped points here, but we’ve taken all three — it was deserved.”
Elsewhere, a hat-trick from Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Robin Hack was not enough as his side lost 4-3 at Hoffenheim.
Hoffenheim led 3-1 midway through the second half before Hack scored twice in 11 minutes to level the score with just a minute remaining, but Anton Stach scored in stoppage time for the home side to snatch victory.
Bottom side Darmstadt won their first league match since October, beating second-last Cologne 2-0 thanks to goals from Oscar Vilhelmsson and Cristoph Klarer.
Despite the win, Darmstadt remain 10 points from safety with four games remaining.
Cologne’s chances of beating the drop are falling fast. They are five points away from 15th-placed Bochum, the final safe spot.
Bochum lost 1-0 at Wolfsburg, with Ralph Hasenhuettl’s side winning thanks to a goal from Jonas Wind.
Wind’s goal deepened Bochum’s woes a week after sacking coach Thomas Letsch, with the side just one point clear of the relegation spots.


Leicester go top of Championship as Southampton stumble

Updated 20 April 2024
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Leicester go top of Championship as Southampton stumble

  • Leicester had lost three of their previous five league games to put their return to the Premier League in jeopardy
  • Leicester move two points ahead of Ipswich and four clear of third-placed Leeds

LONDON: Jamie Vardy scored and missed a penalty as Leicester beat West Brom 2-1 to return to the top of the Championship on Saturday.
However, Southampton’s automatic promotion push may be over after conceding in the 95th minute to lose 2-1 at Cardiff.
Leicester had lost three of their previous five league games to put their return to the Premier League in jeopardy.
However, they could now seal promotion as early as Tuesday when Southampton visit the King Power if Leeds lose at Middlesbrough on Monday.
Leicester’s wobble could have continued had West Brom made the most of their early chances.
Hamza Choudhury made three clearances off his own line, but defeat for the Baggies makes them wait to seal a playoff place.
“It was a crazy game. We need still two wins,” said Leicester boss Enzo Maresca.
“Every time you win, you see yourself closer and you celebrate. But it’s not over, we have to finish the job. It was only 12 months ago that we were relegated, it’s not easy to come back.”
Wilfred Ndidi calmed the home side’s nerves midway through the first half, but Vardy missed the chance to give his side a 2-0 half-time lead when his spot-kick came back off the post.
Vardy made amends when he headed in Abdul Fatawu’s cross 25 minutes from time.
Jed Wallace pulled a goal back but West Brom could not find an equalizer.
Leicester move two points ahead of Ipswich and four clear of third-placed Leeds.
Southampton had taken advantage of a sudden loss of form by all the top three to reignite their chances of finishing in the top two.
However, Saints remain five points behind Ipswich with three games to play after blowing an early lead at Cardiff.
Joe Aribo fired the visitors in front after 12 minutes.
Southampton were left to rue not building on that lead as Cardiff goalkeeper Ethan Horvath’s heroics kept his side in the game.
Cardiff levelled against the run of play when Famara Diedhiou slotted home Raheem Conte’s cross.
Cian Ashford’s deflected strike then snatched all three points for the home side deep into stoppage time.
Norwich edged toward securing their place in the playoffs despite being held 1-1 at home by Bristol City.
Hull remain six points behind both West Brom and Norwich with just nine left to play for after a 0-0 draw at Watford.
At the bottom, Huddersfield’s 4-0 thrashing at home to Swansea left them rooted in the bottom three.
Birmingham missed the chance to pull clear of the drop zone after a 0-0 draw at already-relegated Rotherham.
Stoke secured survival with a 3-0 win over Plymouth.
Millwall also ensured their second-tier status with a 1-0 victory at Sunderland.


American golfer John Catlin wins 2024 Saudi Open in Riyadh

Updated 20 April 2024
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American golfer John Catlin wins 2024 Saudi Open in Riyadh

  • ‘Pretty special to finish back-to-back events holding the trophy,’ Caitlin says
  • Australian Wade Ormsby finishes runner-up with final day 64

RIYADH: American professional golfer John Catlin won the 2024 Saudi Open, presented by the Public Investment Fund, after completing his wire-to-wire victory at Riyadh Golf Club on Saturday.
He finished seven shots ahead of his nearest challenger on 24-under-par.
From the moment he teed off on Wednesday, Catlin was in the groove, and his final round was a procession.
Having shot a men’s course record 62 on Friday, the American followed it up with 66 on Saturday, his fourth consecutive round in the 60s in Riyadh.
It is Catlin’s sixth Asian Tour title and his second in a row, having beaten Spaniard David Puig in a playoff at the International Series Macau in March, and his form was simply too hot for the rest of the field to handle.
“I am tired, but very, very happy,” Catlin said. “I’ve never gone back-to-back like that. It is pretty special to finish back-to-back events holding the trophy. It was just a special week and I feel very lucky to be the champion.
“I hope my victory shows the fans that with hard work and dedication, anything is possible. I have dreamt about being a professional golfer since I was about 8 years old and I just kept putting in the hard work.”
He added: “I never let anything stand in the way of what I wanted to do, and I’d say that to anybody: if you want to follow in my footsteps, you have to put in the hard work and be willing to sacrifice, then great things can happen.”
Catlin was full of praise for organizers of the 2024 Saudi Open, and said he looks forward to defending his title in 2025.
“It was very well organized. The tournament was awesome. From start to finish we were looked after amazingly, and the people were friendly. The hospitality has been great, the food has been awesome — everything about this event is top class and I look forward to coming back in the future.”
Wade Ormsby’s final day 64 saw him finish second, two ahead of Peter Uihlein and Kiradech Aphinbarnrat in third.
The Australian admitted that it just proved impossible to haul in the runaway leader.
Ormsby said: “John had a big lead, it was difficult, you just want to go out and play as well as you can. There were a couple of potential tiny openings there, but he closed the door straight away. I am really happy with the way I played.”
Reigning champion Denwit Boriboonsub finished in style after a disappointing Friday saw his chances of retaining his trophy slip away.
The Thai golfer shot 63, the joint-second lowest round of the week, but enjoyed his time back at Riyadh Golf Club.
The 20-year-old said: “I’ve enjoyed and relished being the defending champion. It helped me a lot with a two-year exemption on the Asian Tour, which relieves a lot of pressure, and winning means a lot. Yesterday wasn’t so good, but I bounced back and I’m very happy with the score.”


Pakistan trounce depleted New Zealand in second T20

Updated 20 April 2024
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Pakistan trounce depleted New Zealand in second T20

  • Shaheen led the attack with 3-13 while Amir, returning to international cricket after nearly four years, finished with 2-13
  • Rizwan finished with 45 not out with a six and four boundaries to ensure Pakistan chased down a modest target in 12.1 overs

RAWALPINDI: Left-armers Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Amir shared five wickets to rock New Zealand for a paltry 90 before Mohammad Rizwan anchored the chase to help Pakistan win the second Twenty20 clash Saturday in Rawalpindi.
Shaheen led the attack with 3-13 while Amir, returning to international cricket after nearly four years, finished with 2-13 as the visitors were bowled out in 18.1 overs after being sent in to bat.
Rizwan finished with 45 not out off 34 balls with a six and four boundaries to ensure Pakistan chased down a modest target in 12.1 overs and take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.
The first match, also in Rawalpindi, was washed out after just two deliveries on Thursday.
New Zealand did fight back with wickets of Saim Ayub (four), Babar Azam (14) and debutant Usman Khan (seven) but Muhammad Irfan Khan (run-a-ball 18) partnered Rizwan in an unfinished 36-run stand to seal victory.
Ayub hit a boundary off the first ball of the innings before giving a return catch to pacer Ben Lister off the next while Azam was stumped off rival skipper Michael Bracewell and Usman bowled by spinner Ish Sodhi.
Earlier Amir -- returning to international cricket after nearly four years -- jolted New Zealand in the opening overs.
Amir retired abruptly in 2020 after he was dropped from the team, the second break in his career after he was banned for five years in a spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
Spinners Abrar Ahmed (2-15) and Shadab Khan (2-15) doubled the pressure as New Zealand were dismissed for their second lowest total against Pakistan in the game's shortest format.
Mark Chapman (19), Cole McConchie (15), Dean Foxcroft (13) and Tim Seifert (13) were the only batsmen to reach double figures.
Chapman hit three boundaries in his 16-ball knock.
New Zealand's lowest T20I total against Pakistan is 80, made at Christchurch in 2010.
Fast bowler Naseem Shah, also playing his first match since injuring his shoulder in September last year, took 1-27 in four overs.
Both teams are preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in June in the United States and the West Indies.
New Zealand are missing a host of their top players due to playing in the ongoing Indian Premier League, unavailability and injuries.
The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on Sunday followed by the last two in Lahore on April 25 and 27.