Professional Fighters League extends global reach with launch of PFL MENA after inaugural Riyadh event

Professional Fighters League extends global reach with launch of PFL MENA after inaugural Riyadh event
Saudi's Abdullah Al-Qahtani ahead of his fight against India’s Edukondal Rao at PFL Champions vs Bellator Champions. (AN Photo: Abdulrahman Shulhub)
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Updated 25 February 2024
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Professional Fighters League extends global reach with launch of PFL MENA after inaugural Riyadh event

Professional Fighters League extends global reach with launch of PFL MENA after inaugural Riyadh event
  • Top MMA fighters from the region will compete in a sport-season format across 4 live events in the Middle East starting in April

RIYADH: The Professional Fighters League has announced the launch of PFL MENA, the promotion’s second international league, which will make its debut in April 2024.

The official announcement was made following the PFL Champions vs Bellator Champions event in the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, the first-ever MMA event in Saudi Arabia.

PFL MENA will introduce a thrilling four-event sport-season format featuring the region’s top fighters and a groundbreaking initiative with PIF-owned SRJ Sports Investments. The full roster of the league will be revealed in March.

CEO of SRJ Sports Investment, Danny Townsend, said: “The launch of the PFL MENA League is another incredible milestone for the sport of MMA, and one we are delighted to play a role in. Saudi Arabia is quickly emerging as the international home of combat sports; bringing world-class talent here and to the wider MENA region remains at the core of SRJ’s investment mandate.

“With the launch of a new PFL MENA League, we’re backing the development of the region’s exceptional talent, helping provide new pathways to the top. We are confident that investments like these will continue inspiring even more young people to take up sport and help grow the MMA fanbase on a global scale.”

PFL CEO Peter Murray announced the brand’s second international league with partners SRJ.

“Driven by the strategic importance of mixed martial arts in burgeoning markets, SRJ’s investment underscores the immense potential of the sport in the region,” he said. “PFL MENA expands the PFL brand and MMA footprint in the Middle East bringing events to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

“We’re very excited to be launching PFL MENA and providing up-and-coming athletes from The Middle East a global platform for them to be able to showcase their skills and potentially compete for a life-changing opportunity at a PFL Championship and a million-dollar purse,” Murray added.

Jerome Mazet, general manager of PFL MENA, said: “Through PFL MENA, we hope to be able to not only find and develop the next Middle Eastern MMA star, but we also want to be able to put the spotlight on MMA in the region and give it the attention and the exposure that it deserves.”

Ahead of the launch of PFL MENA, the PFL organized the first-ever international MMA event in Riyadh — PFL Champions vs. Bellator Champions — which featured world champions and some of the biggest names in combat sports.

To further highlight the launch of the PFL’s newest international league, selected fighters from the Middle East were in attendance in Riyadh, including Ahmed Amir, Mostafa Rashed Neda, Jarrah Al-Silawi, Abdullah Saleem, and Omar El-Dafrawy.

Abdullah Al-Qahtani, the first fighter to represent Saudi Arabia in the PFL, defeated India’s Edukondal Rao in a featherweight contest on the night.

The inaugural PFL MENA season will feature 32 fighters competing across four weight classes in a sports-season format, with a regular season, playoffs, and championship.

The league will also host showcase fights to develop local and regional talents, such as Hattan Alsaif, the first female fighter from Saudi Arabia to sign a contract with a major global MMA promotion. She will be making her amateur PFL debut in showcase bouts on the PFL MENA cards.


Griner contemplated suicide during Russian prison ordeal: interview

Griner contemplated suicide during Russian prison ordeal: interview
Updated 18 sec ago
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Griner contemplated suicide during Russian prison ordeal: interview

Griner contemplated suicide during Russian prison ordeal: interview
  • Griner made the revelation in excerpts of an upcoming interview with ABC Television released on Tuesday
  • “Yeah, I just didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” an emotional Griner said

LOS ANGELES: WNBA superstar Brittney Griner has revealed she contemplated suicide during her nine-month ordeal in a Russian jail that left her feeling “less than a human.”
Griner, who was detained in a Moscow airport in February 2022 on drug charges before being sentenced to nine years in prison, made the revelation in excerpts of an upcoming interview with ABC Television released on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I just didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” an emotional Griner said when asked by her interviewer on ABC’s 20/20 news show if she had considered “ending it all.”
In other segments of the interview, Griner, who was freed in late 2022 as part of a prisoner swap, gave an insight into the grim conditions of her incarceration at a Russian penal colony.
“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it. I had no soap, no toilet paper. That was the moment where I just felt less than a human,” Griner said.
Griner said at one stage during her imprisonment she was ushered into a room to find “a huge knife sitting on the table.”
“And I was like ‘Now, this is going to be a ride,’” she said. “You’ve got to do what you got to do to survive.”
Griner was arrested and charged by Russian officials for possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage as she passed through airport security.
She later testified she had “no intention” of breaking the law and had packed the cartridges by accident.
Asked by ABC what she felt when she realized that she had left the cartridges in her luggage, she replied: “My life is over right here.”
Later in the interview, Griner recalls the moment she was handed her nine-year prison term.
“I was just so scared for everything because there’s so much unknown,” she said.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion, Griner was eventually released in December 2022 as part of a deal that saw her swapped for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — known as the “Merchant of Death.”
At the time, Griner was one of several US-based players playing in Russia during the WNBA off-season in order to boost her income.
She has vowed never to play basketball abroad again for clubs following her jail sentence.
Griner’s full interview, which comes ahead of the release next month of a memoir by the basketball player detailing her ordeal, will be aired on May 1.


Three top clubs need a new coach, Emery off the market after Aston Villa extension

Three top clubs need a new coach, Emery off the market after Aston Villa extension
Updated 23 April 2024
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Three top clubs need a new coach, Emery off the market after Aston Villa extension

Three top clubs need a new coach, Emery off the market after Aston Villa extension
  • “We are enjoying our way together with Villa fans, the club owners, management and this great group of players that we are proud of,” Emery said Tuesday
  • The field of candidates for the jobs at Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern is shrinking

DUBAI: Ahead of a summer when three of the biggest jobs in world soccer are up for grabs, Unai Emery became the latest top coach to decide to stay put.
The Aston Villa manager extended his contract until 2027 on Tuesday to stay in Birmingham at a time when Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich all have looming vacancies.
In recent weeks, candidates Xabi Alonso and Julian Nagelsmann took themselves off the market by committing their futures to Bayer Leverkusen and Germany, respectively.
Emery was reportedly on the radar of Bayern and Barcelona after establishing himself as one of the shrewdest coaches in the sport with his work at Villa over the past two seasons.
Having taken over a team that were in danger of relegation in October 2022, he has guided Villa to fourth in the Premier League and into the semifinals of the Europa Conference League.
“We are enjoying our way together with Villa fans, the club owners, management and this great group of players that we are proud of,” Emery said Tuesday.
“Ambition already is, and must always be, the motto of this project.”
The field of candidates for the jobs at Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern is shrinking.
Alonso was the favorite for Liverpool and Bayern, having played for both teams during a storied career. But he announced last month that he would remain at Leverkusen, the team he has gone on to lead to their first German title at the expense of Bayern.
“This is the right place for me to be, to develop as a coach,” Alonso said.
Nagelsmann, fired by Bayern last season, was a contender to return to the German giant until last week when he extended his contract with the national team through to the 2026 World Cup. He was also considered a possibility for Liverpool, which faces the daunting task of replacing Jurgen Klopp at the end of the season.
Klopp said in January he would step down after a trophy-laden spell of more than eight years on Merseyside.
Alonso seemed like a natural fit as an ex-player who has made a remarkable start to his coaching career with Leverkusen.
Sporting Lisbon coach Ruben Amorim replaced Alonso as the favorite for the Liverpool job, while Roberto De Zerbi has impressed at Brighton.
Bayern need a replacement for Thomas Tuchel, who is stepping down at the end of the season. His reputation has taken a hit after failing to win the title this year, but he could yet walk away a Champions League winner after leading Bayern to the semifinals of European club soccer’s elite competition.
The Champions League trophy could yet see Tuchel in the running for one of the other two top jobs available this summer.
Barcelona need a new coach after Xavi Hernández said in January that this would be his last season.
Speculation that Emery was on the Catalan club’s radar had increased in recent days.
Emery’s reputation has only grown since taking over from Steven Gerrard when Villa was above the relegation zone only on goal difference.
Emery, who joined from Villarreal, led Villa to a seventh-place finish and qualified the team for Europe for the first time since 2010. Villa did not say at the time of his appointment in 2022 how long his original contract would run.
The 52-year-old Emery has won four Europa League trophies — three times with Sevilla and once with Villarreal — and won the French league title with Paris Saint-Germain.
He previously coached in England with Arsenal from 2018-19.
“We are thrilled and are building a sporting operation around Unai to support him with a view of returning Aston Villa, a co-founder of the English Football League as we prepare to celebrate our 150th anniversary, to its historic levels of greatness,” club chairman Nassef Sawiris said.


Unbeaten Stoinis ton helps Lucknow chase 211 to beat CSK

Unbeaten Stoinis ton helps Lucknow chase 211 to beat CSK
Updated 23 April 2024
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Unbeaten Stoinis ton helps Lucknow chase 211 to beat CSK

Unbeaten Stoinis ton helps Lucknow chase 211 to beat CSK
  • It was Stoinis’ first IPL century and his second in T20 cricket, trumping an unbeaten 108 by Chennai skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad
  • Stoinis reached his hundred in 56 balls as he and Hooda, who made 17 not out off six balls, secured Lucknow’s second straight win over Chennai

CHENNAI, India: Australia’s Marcus Stoinis hit an unbeaten 124 as Lucknow Super Giants chased down a target of 211 with six wickets and three balls to spare against Chennai Super Kings on Tuesday.
It was Stoinis’ first IPL century and his second in T20 cricket, trumping an unbeaten 108 by Chennai skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad at his home M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
Lucknow looked in trouble at 88-3 after 11 overs but Stoinis put on 70 runs with Nicholas Pooran, who hit 34 off 15 balls, and an unbeaten 65-run stand with Deepak Hooda to achieve victory in 19.3 overs.
Stoinis reached his hundred in 56 balls as he and Hooda, who made 17 not out off six balls, secured Lucknow’s second straight win over Chennai, replacing the five-time winners in fourth spot.
Needing 17 to win in the final over, Stoinis smashed Mustafizur Rahman for a six and three fours, including one off a no ball.
“Tough pill to swallow, but good game of cricket,” said Gaikwad. “LSG played really well in the back end. We had the game in control till 13-14 overs, but Stoinis played a great innings.”
Stoinis walked in in the first over after Quinton de Kock’s departure for a duck and paced his innings to perfection as he hit 13 fours and six sixes in his 63-ball knock.
It was the highest score by a batsman while chasing in the IPL.
Hooda said Stoinis “played like a warrior, he is a kind of motivation to us.”
Sri Lanka pace bowler Matheesha Pathirana took two wickets including the dangerous Pooran.
Chennai posted 210-4 courtesy of Gaikwad’s second IPL ton and a 104-run stand between the captain and Shivam Dube, who smashed 66, after the hosts were invited to bat first.
Gaikwad took on the opposition attack despite losing Ajinkya Rahane and Daryl Mitchell and raised his hundred from 56 balls with a six and four.
Gaikwad became only the third Chennai player after India’s Murali Vijay and Australia’s Shane Watson to hit two IPL tons and moved to second in this season’s batting chart with 349 runs.
Royal Challengers Bengaluru star Virat Kohli tops the chart with 379 runs.
Dube got to his fifty with a four and a six before being run out in the final over, which saw veteran M.S. Dhoni walk out to a rousing reception and hit a four off the final ball.


Soccer agent ‘threatened’ Chelsea director over Zouma fee, UK court hears

Soccer agent ‘threatened’ Chelsea director over Zouma fee, UK court hears
Updated 23 April 2024
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Soccer agent ‘threatened’ Chelsea director over Zouma fee, UK court hears

Soccer agent ‘threatened’ Chelsea director over Zouma fee, UK court hears
  • The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said
  • French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts

PARIS: French police arrested eight men on Tuesday as part of an investigation into the finances of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), banned as a terror organization by Turkiye and its Western allies, anti-terrorism prosecutors told AFP.
The arrests took place in the Paris region and in southern France, the PNAT anti-terror unit said.
The PKK has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkiye, the United States and the European Union.
French prosecutors suspect the eight of preparing and financing terrorist acts, and of conspiring to extort, or attempt to extort, funds to finance a terrorist organistion between 2020 and 2024, the PNAT said.
Investigators believe the eight to be connected to a campaign to collect funds from Kurdish business people and other Kurds in France, a source close to the case added.
Police can hold the suspects for up to 96 hours for questioning, the source said.
Another source said the funds were destined for use in Belgium, where police on Monday raided Kurdish-run media as part of a probe undertaken at the request of a French anti-terror judge, the PNAT said.
The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority of Turkiye in the southeast of the country, in a standoff with the Ankara government that remains unresolved to this day.


Ten Hag says reaction to Man Utd FA Cup win a ‘disgrace’

Ten Hag says reaction to Man Utd FA Cup win a ‘disgrace’
Updated 23 April 2024
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Ten Hag says reaction to Man Utd FA Cup win a ‘disgrace’

Ten Hag says reaction to Man Utd FA Cup win a ‘disgrace’
  • Ten Hag admitted after the match his team had “got away with it” but played down any notion of embarrassment
  • “The comments are a disgrace“

LONDON: Erik ten Hag says the media reaction to Manchester United’s performance in the FA Cup semifinal against Coventry was “a disgrace,” robustly defending his side’s achievement in reaching a second straight final.
United surrendered a 3-0 lead at Wembley on Sunday and were saved from a humiliating exit in extra time only by a VAR intervention, which ruled out a goal for offside in the final moments.
They eventually scraped through against the Championship side on penalties to set up a re-match of last year’s final against City.
Ten Hag admitted after the match his team had “got away with it” but played down any notion of embarrassment.
But he has been widely criticized, adding to speculation he is on borrowed time at Old Trafford.
Former Premier League striker Chris Sutton said the performance would “cement his sacking.”
But Ten Hag was in defiant mood on the eve of United’s Premier League match against bottom side Sheffield United on Wednesday.
“You asked the question: ‘Is it embarrassing?’ No, the reaction from you was embarrassing,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“It is the comments. Top football is about results. We made it to a final and we deserved it not only by this game but also the other games.
“We lost control for 20 minutes, we also had bad luck, 3-2, 3-3. We were very lucky in the end, it is clear. Penalties was very good and we made it to the final, it is a huge achievement. Twice, in two years, is magnificent. For me as a manager, four cup finals in four years.
“The comments are a disgrace.”
United, winless in their past four Premier League games, are in danger of missing out on a European spot next season after a poor campaign.
They are already realistically out of the race to qualify for the lucrative Champions League but still have the Europa League and the Europa Conference League to aim for.
“We have to win every game, we know that,” said Ten Hag. “That’s what United stands for and that is our approach, go from game to game but we have to qualify for Europe and we now have two opportunities — in the league and the FA Cup final.”
Ten Hag said he would work closely with newly appointed technical director Jason Wilcox to determine the future direction of the club.
Wilcox, 53, has left second-tier Southampton to take up the job at Old Trafford with immediate effect.
“We have to form a partnership, which is very important,” said Ten Hag. “We are a little bit behind in the process so we have to catch up and we will go and speed up the process.”