Fighting talk: The man aiming to bring McGregor v Pacquiao to the Middle East

Fighting talk: The man aiming to bring McGregor v Pacquiao to the Middle East
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Iraqi-American agent Audie Attar, CEO of Paradigm Sports Management, with one of his superstar clients, Manny Pacquiao. (Supplied)
Fighting talk: The man aiming to bring McGregor v Pacquiao to the Middle East
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Iraqi-American agent Audie Attar, CEO of Paradigm Sports Management, with one of his superstar clients, Conor McGregor. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 January 2021

Fighting talk: The man aiming to bring McGregor v Pacquiao to the Middle East

Fighting talk: The man aiming to bring McGregor v Pacquiao to the Middle East
  • Iraqi-American agent Audie Attar, CEO of Paradigm Sports Management, gives an insight into the business of sport
  • Saudi Arabia has one of the biggest cheque books in the world and is keen to develop itself as a major global sporting destination

DUBAI: The world’s 100 highest-paid athletes earned $3.6 billion in 2020, a fall of just 9 percent compared with 2019, despite the coronavirus pandemic forcing many international sporting events to be scrapped or postponed during the year.

Tennis great Roger Federer took the earnings crown in this year’s annual Forbes list with $106.3 million, followed by footballers Cristiano Ronaldo ($105 million) and Lionel Messi ($104 million). Scrolling down and sitting at number 16 was mixed martial arts (MMA) star Conor McGregor, who took home $48 million.

While McGregor earned $30 million from a fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in January 2020 and claimed sponsorship deals from the likes of Reebok, the feisty Irishman is tipped to soar up the rankings in 2021.

First up on Jan. 23 he has a fight against Dustin Poirier at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, but the real excitement is around his much discussed clash with superstar Manny Pacquiao. The Filipino’s last big fight against Floyd Mayweather saw him claim the second spot on the 2015 Forbes highest earnings list with a whopping $160 million haul.

“Yeah, both fighters want that fight,” McGregor’s agent, Audie Attar, founder and CEO of Paradigm Sports Management, told Arab News.

“McGregor is committed to fighting Manny. There’s interest from the fans and we’re having active discussions. We’re keen on making that event happen in 2021.”

It helps that Attar manages both McGregor and Pacquiao, so the question really is where will the fight be staged? “I can tell you that we’ve had some conversations with different jurisdictions and entities to host,” Attar said.

“It’s more than money. I think you have to look at all the different variables. One of the most important things is safety, ensuring that the fighters, the camps are safe wherever we put this on. And, hopefully, you can put it on in a place where you can actually have some fans in a safe way as well. So you have to weigh those elements up. I think there are several different things to take into consideration when making the final decision,” he said.

The Middle East is certainly on the cards. If it was purely about money, Saudi Arabia has one of the biggest cheque books in the world and is keen to develop itself as a major global sporting destination as part of its Vision 2030 goals. While Attar doesn’t rule the Kingdom out, it would seem everything is still to play for.

“First and foremost, I’m just impressed. Hats off to the leadership of the Saudi government for really starting to execute the 2030 Vision. I was proud, as an Iraqi American, as a Muslim American, to see what they’re doing, not only for their people, but for the Muslim world and the region,” he said.

“I applaud that because not only do they have big economic ambitions, they also have ambitions of driving cultural awareness and integrating sports and entertainment in a way that really is powerful and potent. And it’s bringing eyeballs to the region, which is a good thing.”

In a recent interview with Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Sports, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, outlined how much the Kingdom’s sporting ambitions are adding to the diversification of the country’s economy, pointing out that its contribution to gross domestic product has risen from SR2.4 billion ($640 billion) in 2016 to SR6.5 billion ($1.7 billion) last year.

So, will a major, headlining boxing contest help add to the Kingdom’s sporting coffers? Attar is the man who ultimately will decide that.

“If we are fortunate enough to be able to do something in Saudi Arabia, we’d be honored and absolutely excited at the opportunity. We’ll continue to have discussions about different ideas and opportunities. I think that we have some time between now and 2030, so hopefully we’re successful at something,” he said without giving too much away.

Going back to the Forbes list, analysis of Federer’s $106.3 million showed that 94 percent of his earnings came from endorsement and commercial deals off the court, from partnerships with the likes of Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo.

There are many instances where sports stars have been able to command huge commercial deals, while others equally if not more talented fail to command the same attention from fans and brands.

“At the highest level of professional sports, there are those that are going to get the attention. And sometimes you get the unicorns that are both phenomenal athletes but also captivating and iconic in their own way. It’s all about authenticity and staying true to who you are,” Attar said.

McGregor is certainly one of those characters, and his colorful lifestyle and controversial actions outside the octagon have generated headlines in both the sporting press and redtop tabloids.

In addition to his $5 million deal with Reebok, the fighter also has a fashion partnership with tailoring brand David August and, in 2018, founded Irish whiskey distiller Proper No. Twelve, which is now sold in Ireland, Australia, Canada, Russia and the US.

The 32-year-old Dubliner in November teamed up with a mobile phone game, and Attar hinted that more commercial deals are in the works, including a health and wellness project and even a move into reality TV.

“While it’s not ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians,’ we do have a big series coming out that we will be announcing soon and it will give you a little bit more of a glimpse as to who he is as a human being. In this digital age of social media, you have, for better or worse, all that attention — some true, some not. Sometimes you have to take control of that narrative and let them know who the real person is.”

Attar set up Paradigm Sports Management in California in 2009 and this year  established an international office in Dubai. Two of his biggest clients may be set to clash, but the real fight is where the showcase will be staged, as regional powerhouses such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia slug it out to land a knockout deal to stage one of the most anticipated sporting events of 2021.


Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup

Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup
Updated 26 January 2021

Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup

Milan, Inter look to bounce back in last-eight derby cup
  • Ibrahimovic returned for Milan this month after seven weeks out injured, scoring a brace against Cagliari

MILAN: Milan’s giants will do battle in the Italian Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday after a disappointing weekend of Serie A action for Italy’s top two teams.

League leaders AC Milan were swept away 3-0 by Atalanta at the San Siro on Saturday, at the same time as second-placed Inter Milan could only manage a goalless draw at Udinese which leaves them two points behind their city rivals.

The teams’ star strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku, who have each bagged 12 goals this league campaign, both drew a blank at the weekend but will be hoping for more from the second meeting this season between the two teams.

Milan’s veteran forward Ibrahimovic scored a brace the last time they met in a 2-1 league win in October, with Lukaku also netting for Inter.

Ibrahimovic returned for Milan this month after seven weeks out injured, scoring a brace against Cagliari, and is looking for his first Cup goal of the season.

Lukaku headed in an extra-time winner against Fiorentina in the last 16, but the Belgium forward has failed to score in Inter’s last four league games.

Their trophy hopes now lie on domestic success after their early European exit.

“Winning the Scudetto and qualifying for the Champions League would be significant for Inter, but the Italian Cup is a trophy that we respect,” said coach Antonio Conte.

“We won’t be taking it lightly and will try to win, as we always do.”

Inter’s last major trophy was the 2011 Italian Cup, while Milan — who last won the league that same year — have not tasted success in the competition since 2003.

Making it through to the last four by beating such strong opposition on Tuesday would be huge after their limp defeat by Atalanta.

“The Italian Cup derby could bring us to the semifinals but above all it’s an opportunity to immediately turn the page and avoid a difficult emotional crisis,” said Milan coach Stefano Pioli.

Holders Napoli are also looking for a lift Thursday as they take on Serie A newcomers Spezia, who dumped Roma out of the tournament last week.

Gennaro Gattuso’s side lost the Italian Super Cup to Juventus last week and fell 3-1 at Hellas Verona in Serie A on Sunday.

Juventus, winners of four of the last six Italian Cups, take on the only Serie B side remaining, SPAL.

Atalanta — whose only major trophy was the Italian Cup in 1963 — host Lazio, winners in 2019, with the two sides set for a return trip again next weekend in the league.

Winners go through to a two-legged semifinal on February 3 and 10, with the final on May 19.