PFL vs Bellator card is unprecedented coup for Riyadh and fight fans

PFL vs Bellator card is unprecedented coup for Riyadh and fight fans
PFL vs Bellator will showcase the best fighters from the combined roster of newly merged MMA brands. (Cooper Neill / PFL / Bellator)
Short Url
Updated 01 February 2024
Follow

PFL vs Bellator card is unprecedented coup for Riyadh and fight fans

PFL vs Bellator card is unprecedented coup for Riyadh and fight fans
  • The newly-merged brands will showcase all their best fighters at Kingdom Arena on Feb. 24

Sports fans in Saudi Arabia have never had it so good. From football to motorsports and mixed martial arts, every week of the 2023/2024 season seems to feature another high-profile international event.

Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Manchester City have all recently competed and won silverware in Saudi Arabia’s capital. Riyadh is also the stage for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to rekindle old rivalries as Al-Nassr take on Inter Miami on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, last weekend saw the sixth hosting of the Diriyah E-Prix at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

The hits keep coming from the world of boxing, too. Oleksandr Usyk will take on Tyson Fury for the undisputed heavyweight crown, while Anthony Joshua will tussle with former UFC champion-turned-boxer Francis Ngannou in the capital.

Tennis championships, a WWE main event, and an upcoming snooker championship that introduces the sport’s first 167-maximum breaks, are all part of the action.

Next up is the “PFL vs Bellator: Champs” card in Riyadh.

With thousands of local fans filling stadiums and millions watching worldwide, Riyadh Season is a chance to do something different. Sports organizations can get creative and establish themselves with new fans. And in the case of the Saudi Arabia-backed Professional Fighters League, this could be the launch pad they need.

Since taking over rival MMA brand Bellator, the PFL has been watched with intrigue. Both brands have been distant competitors to the all-conquering UFC. The roster of Dana White’s organization is currently untouchable when it comes to superstars. Conor McGregor, Islam Makhachev and Jon Jones are household names with millions of fans and viewers.

But while the PFL/Bellator tie-up cannot compete with this star power yet, the organizers fully understood the brief when putting together their Feb. 24 card at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena.

They will have four co-main events in the lineup. This approach will pit the champions and top contenders from each organization against each other.

Rather than rely on one or two big draws in the main events, PFL/Bellator has emptied its entire roster of stars onto the Feb. 24 card to ensure every fight is a banger. It is a bold strategy and one that captures the essence of Riyadh Season’s “Big Time” tagline.

It is a sentiment shared by Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, who reportedly said: “Riyadh Season is putting on some of the biggest fight events around, and the PFL Champions vs Bellator Champions certainly belongs in that category.”

In recent weeks, PFL/Bellator has been winded by stars jumping ship to the UFC. Former PFL champion Kayla Harrison entered free agency before signing to fight former bantamweight queen Holly Holm at UFC 300. This followed a similar recent switch by Bellator’s much-lauded Michael “Venom” Page, who will take on Kevin Holland at UFC 299.

Setbacks like these will always happen. The PFL/Bellator matchmakers would likely have had both fighters on the Saudi Arabia card. But the brand, or brands as there is still no definitive name for the merger, pulled out all the stops for the Riyadh event.

And given how challenging the organization of the first Saudi Arabia UFC card has been, the prospective “co-leaders” in the MMA space realize they had to do something original and exciting for fans to be worthy of a place at the Riyadh spectacle. For now, the PFL can consider the Kingdom as a place where they have a home advantage with Middle Eastern fans. It will be intriguing to see where it goes from here.


World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula

World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula
Updated 57 min 37 sec ago
Follow

World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula

World Endurance Championship camel race begins May 4 in Al-Ula
  • Championship includes a 16 km race split into two 8 km stages, with a 30-minute break in between
  • Inaugural event has a prize pool of more than SR2 million ($533,000) up for grabs

RIYADH: The International Federation for Camel Racing (IFCR) has announced that the first edition of the World Endurance Championship camel race will begin May 4 in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula.

The inaugural event has a prize pool of more than SR2 million ($533,000) up for grabs.

The championship includes a 16 km race split into two 8 km stages, with a 30-minute break in between.

During the first stage, 20 male and 15 women riders will compete in order to qualify for the finals. The first place prize is SR500,000, the IFCR said, with the remaining money distributed among 10 winners for both categories.

IFCR member states can compete in the championship with 10 male and five female competitors. Non-members can borrow camels and submit a maximum of three competitors of both genders.


Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain
Updated 17 April 2024
Follow

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain

Al-Hilal’s record 34-match winning run ends at Al-Ain
  • Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg
  • Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match

AL-AIN: Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal saw their record run of 34 successive victories end on Wednesday at the hands of UAE’s Al-Ain in the Asian Champions League.
Morocco striker Soufiane Rahimi was the star of the show after he scored a first-half hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Al-Ain in their semifinal first leg.
Al-Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match.
Wednesday’s game had been postponed 24 hours after torrential rain swamped the UAE and the record-setting Saudis must have wished it had kept raining.
Rahimi opened the scoring after just six minutes from a pass by Yahia Nader and added a second from the penalty spot 20 minutes later after he was brought down by goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais who was yellow carded for his troubles.
Rahimi completed his hat-trick in the 40th minute, again from a penalty after Ali Al-Bulayhi chopped down Brazilian defender Erik in the area.
Al-Hilal reduced the deficit early in the second period when Malcom scored from a pass by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
However, the Saudis conceded yet another penalty just before the hour mark with Kalidou Koulibaly bringing down Rahimi.
This time Paraguayan star Alejandro Romero took over spot-kick duties to make it 4-1 for Al-Ain, the inaugural winners of the Asian Champions League in 2003.
Salem Al-Dawsari kept Al-Hilal in the tie ahead of next Tuesday’s return leg by scoring his team’s second goal of the night in the 78th minute.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korea’s Ulsan claimed a slender lead in their semifinal with a 1-0 first leg win over Japan’s Yokohama F-Marinos.


American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open
Updated 17 April 2024
Follow

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open

American Catlin shines as Attieh leads homegrown charge at 2024 Saudi Open
  • John Catlin carried on his good form with a round of 66 at Riyadh Golf Club
  • Saudi amateur Khalid Walid Attieh is the best-placed Saudi player at even par

RIYADH: John Catlin leads the 2024 Saudi Open presented by PIF after an opening round of 66 saw him carry on the strong form he showed when winning the International Series Macau in March, as he praised the facilities on offer at Riyadh Golf Club.

American Catlin is a five-time Asian Tour winner and sits at six-under par with Wade Ormsby, Justin Quiban, Tatsunori Shogenji and Scott Hend all just one shot back after the first day of action. Asian Tour Order of Merit leader and LIV Golf member David Puig was well-placed to end the day level with Catlin before a double bogey on the 16th dropped him back to the group of four players at four-under par.

Catlin played in the PIF Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City three years ago, but this is his first visit to the capital and he praised the tournament, noting the strong field was inevitable given the standard of tournaments Golf Saudi continues to host.

Catlin said: “It’s my second time coming to Saudi Arabia and when I played the Saudi International it was a top class event and this is right up there with it. Everything so far has been run very, very well, the facilities are really good and I am enjoying myself for sure. Good players like playing good events, and if you put on a good event like this, you’re going to get a strong field.

“I played solid golf. It was playing difficult out there and the wind picked up from the start. You had to think your way around and I did that quite well. I had control of my ball flight and was able to get the ball pin high a lot, which is difficult out here. I holed a few nice putts too. I look forward to the challenge tomorrow when we might see even more wind.”

Khalid Walid Attieh made history in Oman earlier this year when he became the first Saudi amateur to make a cut at the International Series event in Muscat and he carried on his strong form on the opening day in Riyadh. His round of 72 was the best among the seven Saudi golfers in the field, while Moroccan Ayoub Lguirati ended on one-under par to lead the 20 invited Arab golfers.

Attieh said: “I was really pleased with how I played this morning as the wind made it really difficult. But my performance was at a good level and it confirmed to me that I am not far away from competing regularly with the best players on the Asian Tour.

“It is vital that Saudi players are given the opportunity to play in events with fields as strong as this, because we are all developing quickly. I thank Golf Saudi for their support and for the chance to play on the Asian Tour again.”

Last year’s runner-up Henrik Stenson is well placed to make a charge at two-under-par, while reigning champion Denwit Boriboonsub is one short further back after two bogeys in his final six holes.

The PIF Moment of the Day belonged to Thai golfer Itthipat Buranatanyarat, who teed off on the 10th hole and birdied his third, fourth, fifth and sixth holes of the day to storm to five-under-par, before ending the day joint-10th on three-under-par.


12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
Updated 17 April 2024
Follow

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level

12-year-old Saudi karting sensation dreams of glory at motorsport’s highest level
  • Only three years after taking up racing, Janna Al-Nujaiman has already excelled in domestic and regional competitions against more experienced drivers
  • Janna Al-Nujaiman: My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid

JEDDAH: At only 12, Saudi’s Janna Talal Al-Nujaiman is already dreaming big. As she makes a name for herself in the Kingdom’s karting scene, she has set her sights on becoming a professional driver and ultimately racing in no less a category than Formula One.

The Jeddah resident started karting three years ago in Kyiv while living with her Ukrainian mother, and since then, she has progressed through age group levels and has gone on to rank highly in multiple national and regional races.

Unlike many young drivers coming through the ranks of different racing categories today, however, Janna does not come from a motorsport background.

She is making her way through a tough and costly sport with the support of her family, especially her father Talal Al-Nujaiman.

“I’m not really from a racing family. My dad used to take me to a rental karting, which sparked my interest, as well as watching F1 on the weekends with him as a little kid,” she said about the origins of her passion for the sport.

From the first day, she showed a remarkable aptitude for karting.

“After my father saw how happy I was driving, he called the (instructors) and asked them about me, and my first time in karting,” Janna added. “He asked them about my performance and timing. Was it normal? The answer was no, what I did was not normal.”

In 2022, while Janna and her father were in France on vacation, she was admitted into a karting academy, which was supervised by Herve Montage, a former French rally driver.

Janna was again the least experienced among the senior candidates — a group of elite karting drivers aged 14 to 16. And yet again, the young Saudi offered a glimpse of what she is capable of.

After one month of practice and breaking records, she was asked to stay in France and continue racing, but her father, a Saudia captain, believed that the future of racing was in the Kingdom and refused all offers his daughter received.

“Based on the vision of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and what my country has been going through in all fields, I decided to bring back my daughter to Saudi Arabia and (have her) make her way in motorsports in her own country,” Talal said.

He believes his daughter has what it takes to break into motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

“I have to be very careful what I say now so that I don’t build up pressure on her,” Talal said. “But racing today is looking for women, wants women, and she really loves racing. So, I support her as best I can.

“Making it to the top is of course a very tough road. If she wants to get there, she has to do everything and work very hard. Then she can do it.”

Talal said that his daughter started racing competitively in Jeddah in September 2023, winning her first karting competition on Feb. 24 of this year at the Track Challenge in Jeddah. A mark of her talent, she achieved this in a field of almost 100 male drivers, all older and more experienced than her, with some being university champions with 10 years of experience.

“My dream is to see my daughter representing her country,” Talal said.

For Janna however, that is not enough. Her dream is to be the first female champion in racing’s most elite series here in the Kingdom.

“My dream is to see myself in the future raising the flag of my country Saudi Arabia … by winning the F1 and (being) the first Saudi woman who will make the impossible come true,” she said.

She says she hopes to one day become as good as her motor racing idol Fernando Alonso.

Karting has historically been the birthplace of champions such as Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Alonso, whom Janna recently met.

Now she is looking for sponsorship opportunities to help keep her racing dream alive through karting and eventually other series. While she continues to count on the significant support of her father, who helps cover many racing expenses, her goal now is to add sponsors who will help push her onto the professional circuits.

Given her breakthroughs in such a short time, with the right support, the name Janna Al-Nujaiman is set to become a familiar one for racing fans across the Kingdom and the region in the coming years.


Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
Updated 17 April 2024
Follow

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed

Saudi Arabia’s Premier Cup semifinal hopes dashed
  • Defending champions Nepal won a rain-shortened match by seven wickets

MUSCAT: Saudi Arabia’s hopes of booking a place in the last four of the 2024 ACC Men’s Premier Cup ended with a loss to defending champions Nepal in the final Group A encounter.

The Kingdom’s team went into the match needing a win to qualify for the next stage but ended up fourth in the table after a seven-wicket loss on Wednesday.

Overnight thunder and rain damaged the pitch at the Oman Cricket Academy in Al-Amerat, causing a two- hour delay and a match reduction to eight overs per side. Saudi Arabia were put into bat first and managed 73-7, thanks to some fantastic hits from Abdul Waheed.

Waheed, who came in at No. 3, was the side’s top scorer with 37 runs from 16 balls, including three fours and three sixes. He was trapped leg before wicket as he attempted a paddle against left arm seamer Pratish GC in the sixth over. No other Saudi batsman achieved double figures.

In reply, Nepal were reeling on 15-3 at one stage, thanks to exceptional bowling from Saudi’s Ishtiaq Ahmed in the opening spell. Conceding just seven runs in his two overs, the right arm pacer took the wickets of opener Kushal Bhurtel and Kushal Malla.

Gulshan Jha, who a produced a player of the match performance against Malaysia, repeated his feat, scoring 32 runs off 19 balls. Skipper Rohit Paudel chipped in with 16 runs while Dipendra Singh Airee contributed 17.

Saudi Arabia’s captain, Hisham Shaikh, said he was proud of his team’s performance against a top side.

“I am proud of the boys (and) the way they fought against a quality side like Nepal. At one point, we felt we were in the game. But this will give us a great learning experience and we will come back better,” he told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia campaign opened on Saturday with a close encounter against Malaysia when, despite controlling most of the match, they ended up 12 runs short. The team were at their best the following day, beating Hong Kong by 55, but on Tuesday they failed to chase Qatar’s 153. This meant a win against Nepal was needed to give them any chance of progressing to the next round.

Captain Shaikh said he felt the team lacked experience in closing out the games.

“If we look back, the match against Malaysia and Qatar shows we lack experience,” he said. “We could have won both those games with ease. If our middle order, including me, played well, we could have been in a better place. I take responsibility for that and I believe we will only get better from here.”

The 10-team tournament saw unbeaten Nepal qualify for the semifinals as Group A winners, while Hong Kong pipped Qatar on net run-rate after their convincing seven-wicket win over Malaysia. Hosts Oman, UAE and Kuwait are fighting for two semifinal spots in Group B with Bahrain and Cambodia already knocked out.

The final will take place on April 21, with the winner qualifying for Asia’s premier event, the ACC Asia Cup, next year.