Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray

Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray
Peter Murray speaking at PFL vs Bellator press conference at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida last month (Cooper Neill/PFL/Bellator)
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Updated 15 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray

Saudi Arabia ‘new fight capital of world’: PFL CEO Peter Murray
  • PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions takes place at Kingdom Arena on Feb. 24

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia was the “new fight capital of the world” the CEO of the world’s second-largest mixed martial arts organization said ahead of the sport’s first major event in the Kingdom.

The fight meeting in Riyadh on Feb. 24 will also make history as it will be the first to bring together stars from the Professional Fighters League and Bellator, after the former organization acquired the latter in November.

PFL Champions versus Bellator Champions will take place at Kingdom Arena in Boulevard City.

Peter Murray, CEO of the Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed PFL, said: “I’m really excited about it. When you look at the cards from top to bottom, it is star-studded and stacked, and we’ll see who will be the champion of champions.

“(Saudi Arabia is) the new fight capital of the world, and we’re proud to be part of Riyadh Season and to present the very best of MMA,” he added.

The main event will feature a bout between PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira and his Bellator counterpart Ryan Bader.

Also fighting on the night will be Saudi pro fighter Abdullah Al-Qahtani, taking on India’s Edukondala Rao in the featherweight division.

In the MMA world, the PFL has recently been gaining traction in terms of viewing figures and star power.

While it is still some way off the top spot currently inhabited by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which pioneered the sport and is home to household names such as Conor McGregor, the PFL has been making aggressive moves of its own.

Just a few years after its inaugural event in 2018, its Nielsen viewing figures and worldwide distribution put it second only to the UFC.

Then, in a huge win in May 2023, the upstart organization signed then-UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

Part of Ngannou’s deal with the PFL was to allow him to take on boxing matches outside of the organization, and he will be doing just that when he faces Anthony Joshua in Riyadh on March 8.

The PFL edged out the UFC to become the first international MMA organization to hold an event in the Kingdom after the latter’s inaugural Riyadh event on March 2 was cancelled due to some fighters reportedly not being ready.

On how the PFL was able to secure an event in the Kingdom before its larger competitor, Murray said: “I think it speaks volumes about the PFL’s overall capabilities, our global platform, our roster — it’s second to none — and our commitment to advance and grow the sport around the world, including building a world-class ecosystem in MMA within the Middle East and specifically within Saudi Arabia.”

The PFL’s unique league format means that there is a clear path for fighters to rise through the ranks and compete for the title.

“We’re committed to the sport and advancing and growing the sport, developing future champions and not just staging one-off events,” Murray added.

In August, officials at Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund saw the potential of the organization and bought a minority stake, reportedly worth $100 million, through PIF company SRJ Sports Investment.

Murray said: “We’re proud of our partnership and the investment by SRJ. That investment will fuel the global growth of the PFL, help launch our superfight division, as well as develop the sport throughout the Middle East and within Saudi Arabia specifically.”

On the Kingdom’s push in recent years to develop its sporting sector, he added: “It’s an exciting time in Saudi Arabia, culturally, as well as it relates to sport, and specifically within combat sports. Staging an event in Saudi Arabia just illustrates when you execute an event there, it’s just amplified on a global level.”


Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league
Updated 29 May 2024
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Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league

Expo City Dubai to host NBXL, the first US-Middle East professional basketball league
  • The city will become the home of UAE league matches

DUBAI: Expo City Dubai has signed a partnership agreement with the NBXL, the world’s first US-Middle East-based independent professional basketball league.

The city will become the home of UAE league matches and give it naming rights to one of four teams representing Dubai in the inaugural 2025 season.

The signing was a preview to the main launch on Oct. 5, when Expo City Dubai will unveil its team name, logo, key players, merchandise, staff and schedule. The announcement will also reveal three other teams, with entertaining basketball activities and opportunities for fans to meet and greet players.

With NBXL teams featuring elite players from around the world, UAE league matches will be played at Expo City Dubai with additional league games planned in the US and Saudi Arabia.

No stranger to the UAE, the NXBL hosted two days of basketball activities during Expo 2020 Dubai. It also took part in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 Dubai Schools Games Basketball Championships — an initiative by Dubai Sports Council featuring more than 150 private and public schools.

The partnership reflects Expo City Dubai’s commitment to boost the health and well-being of the community by actively engaging the public in sports, fitness and wellness events.


Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup

Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup
Updated 29 May 2024
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Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup

Young Afghan side ‘among the favorites’ for T20 World Cup
  • Afghanistan celebrated their stunning eight-wicket victory against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup in October last year 
  • They finished sixth, ahead of defending champions England who they also beat, stoking hopes for T20 tournament

KABUL: A young Afghan side with an average age of just 25 have vowed to give audiences back home rare cause for jubilation at the T20 World Cup after a breakthrough performance at the 50-over showpiece.
Kabul’s skies were raked with fireworks when Afghanistan celebrated their stunning eight-wicket victory against Pakistan in the ODI World Cup in October.
They finished sixth, ahead of defending champions England — who they also beat — stoking hopes for the T20 tournament in the United States and West Indies starting on Saturday.
“In the past when we would defeat a bigger team, our victory was tagged as an ‘upset’,” 22-year-old Sediqullah Atal told AFP on the phone from their training camp in the West Indies.
“The word ‘upset’ is no longer in the dictionary and we are ranked among the favorites,” the left-handed opening batsman said, insisting his team is “no less than anyone.”
Afghanistan has been through decades of war, but the country’s passion for cricket has never gone away.
“When you have the support of 40 million people and they motivate you, it is a feeling of absolute delight,” said 20-year-old all-rounder Nangeyalia Kharote.
It’s “a matter of great joy” to represent his country, though they must now “match the high expectations” of supporters, he told AFP in Kabul ahead of his departure for the Caribbean.
“The love from the Afghans both at home and abroad is remarkable,” Sediqullah Atal added.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), which manages the men’s team, has the full backing of the country’s Taliban government, which forced the United States and its allies out of the country before seizing power in 2021.
The Taliban rulers, yet to be recognized by any country, have effectively banned women from sports however under their austere interpretation of Islam.
Afghanistan’s participation in the World Cup therefore comes with some controversy, skirting the International Cricket Council’s rules which stipulate all Test-playing nations must have a women’s side.
The ICC has previously said the matter is “pending,” allowing Afghanistan to compete — although England and Australia have refused to play them outside the World Cup.
Despite decades of war and poverty Afghan cricket has strengthened, with new academies, sponsorship deals and tournament financing.
Their first match at the 2024 World Cup is on June 4 against Uganda in Guyana.
“Our team has arrived and are playing at a very high level in a short space of time,” cricket enthusiast Afzal Khan, who trains at the Rashid Khan Cricket Academy in Kabul, told AFP.
“They are our heroes, they will have a place in my heart forever,” said the 19-year-old, who hopes to fill the shoes of Afghan captain and ace spinner Rashid Khan.
“They have struggled through lots of difficulties to bring the team and our cricket to this level.”
In an interview published by the ACB last week, Khan pledged: “We will shine well in this World Cup too, and match the expectations of our compatriots.”
Back home in Kabul, another young cricketer in training made those expectations very clear. Naseem Khan told AFP “this will be the best World Cup for Afghanistan.”


T20 warmup match between England and Pakistan abandoned due of rain

T20 warmup match between England and Pakistan abandoned due of rain
Updated 29 May 2024
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T20 warmup match between England and Pakistan abandoned due of rain

T20 warmup match between England and Pakistan abandoned due of rain
  • The first match of the series was also wiped out, before England won the second T20 by 23 runs
  • The weather condition in England has jeopardized the T20 World Cup preparations for both teams

CARDIFF, Wales: The T20 World Cup preparations of England and Pakistan were further hurt after the third match of their warmup series was abandoned Tuesday without any play possible in Cardiff because of rain.
The first match of the series was also wiped out, before England won the second T20 by 23 runs in Edgbaston on Saturday.
The fourth and final match of the series is at The Oval in London on Thursday. Bad weather is forecast then, too.
The T20 World Cup begins on Saturday in the United States and the Caribbean, with England’s opening match against Scotland in Barbados on June 4 and Pakistan playing for the first time on June 6 against the US.


US looking for wins in T20 World Cup debut

US looking for wins in T20 World Cup debut
Updated 29 May 2024
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US looking for wins in T20 World Cup debut

US looking for wins in T20 World Cup debut
  • US earned debut spot at T20 World Cup as a result of co-hosting the tournament with the West Indies next month 
  • Cricket has curious history in US, lingering influence of colonial-era game faded as baseball gained prominence

FORT LAUDERDALE, United States: The US will make their debut in the T20 World Cup and while they earned the spot as a result of co-hosting the tournament with the West Indies, they are determined to show they can make an impact among the big boys.
Cricket has a curious history in North America — the first ever international match featured the US against Canada in 1844 but the lingering influence of the colonial-era game faded as baseball gained prominence.
The US has been an associate member of the International Cricket Council since 1965 and frequently competed in the tournaments for non-Test nations.
But the Americans have never featured in either the T20 World Cup or the ODI version, with their only appearance in a major tournament at the 2004 Champions Trophy, where they were roundly beaten by New Zealand and Australia in the group stage.
Grassroots participation has grown over recent years though with thriving local leagues and the T20 format has been used to develop a stronger base with Minor League Cricket and Major League Cricket emerging in the past few years.
It is too soon for those structures to have had an impact on the national side but smart use of the qualification criteria has seen the side become increasingly competitive.
The team coached by Australian Stuart Law head into the tournament on the back of a 2-1 T20I series win over Bangladesh that has provided them with real belief.
The Americans won the opening two games before resting several key starters to provide some opportunity for their back-ups.
The US, captained by Monank Patel, will have to face giants India and Pakistan along with Ireland and Canada in the group stage.
The addition of former New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson has introduced some World Cup experience and top-class quality into the squad.
Anderson moved to the US in 2020 playing domestic cricket and — as his last game for New Zealand was in 2018 — he was able to switch in 2022 due to the ‘four year rule’ which applies in these cases.
Vice-captain Aaron Jones, who was born in New York but grew up playing in Barbados, says the American team is determined to make a statement in the tournament.
“We want to show everybody in the world that US can actually be a cricketing country and obviously be role models for the kids coming up,” he told AFP.
Jones is one of a number of players with experience of playing cricket outside the US and he has been impressed by the standard of the associate level nations.
“It’s just about getting the opportunity and obviously grasping that opportunity. Afghanistan is a really good team right now and they came through from associate. Ireland obviously came from associate. So the opportunity is there and we just need to really and truly take it and showcase our talent to the world,” he added.
Law has been able to work with a fixed core of players including pace bowler Ali Khan, who grew up in Pakistan and has played in the Caribbean Premier League.
Left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh represented India in the Under-19 World Cup in 2012 while Miami-born Steven Taylor has extensive experience in Caribbean cricket.
Jones, who was persuaded by Taylor to join the US team, rejects any idea that the US is in the tournament just to make up the numbers.
“We want to win games. We want to bring as much competition as any other team in the tournament,” he said.
The shortest form of the game does create the opportunity for more surprises and Jones believes his team are capable of producing some.
“We are a very good team. Obviously we showed that against Bangladesh, one of the best teams in the world,” he said.
“I wouldn’t call it an upset if we beat Pakistan or India. I will just say that we played better cricket on the day. It is a game of cricket. The bigger teams can lose as well.”


Towns, Edwards lift Wolves over Mavs 105-100 to avoid sweep in West finals

Towns, Edwards lift Wolves over Mavs 105-100 to avoid sweep in West finals
Updated 29 May 2024
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Towns, Edwards lift Wolves over Mavs 105-100 to avoid sweep in West finals

Towns, Edwards lift Wolves over Mavs 105-100 to avoid sweep in West finals
  • The Wolves avoided being the 16th team out of 21 to get swept after losing the first three games of a series that started at home
  • Luka Doncic had 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in his sixth triple-double of these playoffs, but he and co-star Kyrie Irving were just 13 of 39 from the field

DALLAS: Karl-Anthony Towns scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and the Minnesota Timberwolves held off the Dallas Mavericks 105-100 on Tuesday night to avoid a sweep in the Western Conference finals.

Anthony Edwards had 29 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists as the Wolves stayed alive in their first trip to the conference finals in 20 years, and just the second in the franchise’s 35 seasons.

Towns, who was shooting 28 percent from the field in the series coming in, was 9 of 13 from the field, including four of five from deep.

“He got himself going by going to the hoop,” coach Chris Finch said. “Played quick off the catch. Stayed confident. He didn’t really look much for his 3 until the second half. He just had his feet set. He was ready. And they were huge.”

Now third-seeded Minnesota head home for Game 5 on Thursday night to see if they can make the series even more interesting against No. 5 seed Dallas.

Luka Doncic had 28 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists in his sixth triple-double of these playoffs, but he and co-star Kyrie Irving were just 13 of 39 from the field. Irving, who was 14-0 in his career in closeout games coming in, finished with 16 points.

“That game’s on me. Just didn’t give enough energy,” said Doncic, who was 7 of 21 from the field, including 1 of 5 in the fourth when he and Irving had combined as closers to build the 3-0 series lead. “They won one game. We’ve just got to focus on the next one.”

The Wolves have led in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter of every game in the series, and this time they finished.

Towns, who picked up his fifth foul midway through the third quarter, put the Wolves ahead for good on a 3-pointer with 5:41 remaining, then hit another from deep the next time down.

Edwards put the Wolves up five with a jumper just inside the arc with 39 seconds left, and Minnesota hung on despite Edwards fouling Doncic on a made 3-pointer for a three-point Dallas deficit with 12 seconds to go.

Doncic missed the free throw, and Naz Reid hit a bucket to push the margin back to five with 11 seconds remaining.

Towns appeared to be finding a rhythm, scoring 10 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter before picking up his fifth foul for elbowing P.J. Washington Jr. in the face as Towns went up for a shot.

The call against Towns prompted a technical foul against Finch from the second row, where he’s been confined since the start of the second round of the playoffs because of a knee injury that required surgery. Assistant Micah Nori has been roaming the sidelines.

Finch flirted with a second technical, which would have meant an ejection, a few minutes later when Edwards was called for his fourth foul going for a steal against Daniel Gafford.

Towns fouled out in the final two minutes, while Edwards and Rudy Gobert finished with five apiece.

“We weathered a lot of foul trouble out there, which was frustrating to say the least,” Finch said. “Credit to our guys. They found a way to win the game. It was a lot like Games 1 and 2, and we were able to get it done tonight.”

The Wolves avoided being the 16th team out of 21 to get swept after losing the first three games of a series that started at home. Now they’ll try to be just the fourth to force at least six games.

Mike Conley scored 14 points for Minnesota, and Rudy Gobert had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Jaden Hardy scored 10 of his 13 points in a 3:38 stretch that spilled into the first bucket of the fourth quarter, a corner 3 that pulled Dallas within two. Four of the game’s 11 lead changes came in the fourth.

The Mavs were without rookie center Dereck Lively II, who injured his neck when Towns accidentally kneed him in back of the head in Game 3.

Maxi Kleber, who has been out since May 3 with a separated shoulder, returned to give Dallas another option inside. But Daniel Gafford didn’t have his regular tag team partner as a rim protector at center, and the Wolves shot series-best 53 percent from the field.