Al-Ittihad CEO building solid foundations for bright future at Jeddah club

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Updated 03 April 2024

Al-Ittihad CEO building solid foundations for bright future at Jeddah club

Al-Ittihad CEO building solid foundations for bright future at Jeddah club
  • Domingos Soares De Oliveira spoke to Arab News about the standard of the Saudi Pro League, Al-Ittihad’s scouting and Karim Benzema’s status at the club, among other issues
  • Domingos Soares De Oliveira: I think that the work which started maybe one year ago, one year and a half ago, about attracting very important players, it has to continue

At the end of September, 2023, Domingos Soares De Oliveira was announced as the new CEO of Ittihad Club Company, and in February he was named as part of the club’s new three-man Sporting Committee, alongside Sporting Director Ramon Planes and coach Marcelo Gallardo.

The moves look to give the reigning Saudi Pro League champions the best possible structure and governance as they look to a bright future.

De Oliveira spoke to Arab News about his first six months in the role and gave his views on various topics, including the standard of the Saudi Pro League, Al-Ittihad’s scouting and Karim Benzema’s status at the club.

Here are some highlights from the interview.

Taking over the position of Ittihad Club Company CEO…

At the time I was leaving Benfica, I had different opportunities in terms of new roles in different continents. But when the proposal from Ittihad came, I was really surprised by it because I got a lot of exciting information from the transformation the Kingdom was facing, and all the professional clubs.

This club has a fantastic legacy. We are the (current) champions, we won two Champions Leagues. We were the first club in the Kingdom, I think, and I’m sure that we are the club that has the best fan base. I’m not sure if it is the biggest, but in terms of commitment, in terms of passion, they are fantastic. We have 18 or 19 different sports, so the responsibility about being the CEO of Ittihad is a enormous responsibility. But at the same time, it’s a great challenge also because the Kingdom and the Ittihad, they are facing a new reality.

I think we are entering in a new era. We have right now a transformation process coming from a club with a different profile in terms of shareholders, to now a much more structured club. We have a new management in place, we have a new governance in place, we have a new squad in the sense that we were able, with the best programs, to attract different players — much better players.

I think to be honest, it was the best opportunity a professional like myself as CEO from a European club could get.

Role of Saudi football in the Kingdom’s culture…

Well, it’s quite impressive because I think the story of the Kingdom and the story of our club, they mix together. In fact, the club was established in 1927 and the Kingdom in 1932.

So, you can see Saudi people are very proud of their history, like Ittihad fans. I think you have a great, great history, and really every day I am surprised by this country and the opportunities about this country. It’s about unity, it’s about community, all those values that you have in your country. The same way, we have inside Ittihad.

The ambitions of Saudi football…

Well, the Saudi Pro League has an ambition and we share the ambition as a club. But also, I believe we can easily be part of the top five leagues in the world. And I think we can have the ambition to be much more than that, because we have now a strategy in place, strategy that is totally aligned with Vision 2030.

We also have now a new challenge, which is in 2034 the country will organize the World Cup, so we have to develop our players to be ready for 2034. And in this sense, the transformation that the SPL is doing, for example for next season, to have only 25 players, which means 15 Saudi players in the squad, (will mean) that the clubs will have to invest much more in the Saudi players.

And I think we are part of this process because if you see what we have done in the winter, we hired five Saudi young players and we are very happy with the way they are performing here. In fact, we have, as you know, the Olympics team and we will have to take five players from our squad to (Paris 2024). We are proud about that, even if it represents a difficult challenge for our coach.

How technology will impact football…

Technology will have a strong impact in two areas.

First of all, in terms of the digitalization that we have inside the company, all departments, the commercial departments, financial, all of them are embracing digital.

For scouting, it will be extremely relevant to gather as much information as we can from players, to have access to information that happens in the training sessions, to have access to live information that you have during those matches. The SPL is already sending us a lot of information, but we want to go much further and we want to have much more technology in all areas in the club.

Al-Ittihad’s scouting of Saudi talent across the Kingdom…

Scouting is a critical part of our business. Without the right raw materials, you cannot build a good product. This is obvious in any industry, but especially here. So, what we need is, and this is what we are establishing, is, first of all, to have a scouting department with a strong focus in the Kingdom.

So, we will develop a kind of a network of scouts around the Kingdom in order to identify the best talent. In fact, we are not doing that for the first time now. If you see what we did in the winter, and the players we scouted in the winter, we were able to attract those players. Everyone recognized that we did a good job at that time.

But it’s more than that. I think we need to scout at the youngest ages, and not only in Jeddah. We need to be able to identify players that are maybe today eight, nine, 10, 11, 12 years old and to attract them to the club.

We have to take care of them, we have to take care of their families. But we have to have a comprehensive strategy and the comprehensive role model for these young kids and to define a program together with their families, to develop not only the players, but also the young men.

Balancing local and international scouting…

We want players like we have today, which are role models, which are able to play and to work hand-in-hand with the Saudi players.

So, we have a network of of international scouts. In fact, the football department we have today are scouting everywhere (across) the globe. It’s part-international and part-Saudi.

International, (we seek) much more established players; and national, young players that we can be proud of in two or three years from now, and especially in 2034.

Ittihad’s role in helping Saudi Arabia become an international sporting hub…

Saudi has probably the best program I saw so far in terms of becoming a hub for sports. Very often, the investment in other countries is based on investment by the clubs, and the clubs keep themselves in a very, I would say, individual position.

Here, you can understand that the Ministry of Sport has a strategy and they are supporting the clubs in terms of developing the different sports the clubs can have. In our case, we have 19 different sports. We have very individual sports with strong performances. If you look to badminton, to archery, to table tennis, tennis, we have a fantastic group of young players with very good results.

Taking part in the Said Super Cup in Abu Dhabi…

For us to play in the most important competitions, it’s very important. We want to be part of the international competitions, of the Super Cup, of the King’s Cup, of the SPL. We are a club that likes to be challenged, that likes to accept defiance, that likes to fight, because we have this spirit, a fighting spirit.

So, going for the Super Cup, even if it is in Abu Dhabi, even if it will be a little bit more difficult for our fans to be there, even if we have some players that are playing (with the Olympic team), and we are proud of that, we are facing that with strong confidence. We believe that we can deliver a very good result and our ambition, and our president’s ambition, and our coach’s ambition, is to succeed.

Al-Ittihad’s new sporting committee…

The sporting committee is something that the board decided to create. So, it’s a decision coming from the board and in the sporting committee there are three persons: Myself, the sports director, Ramon Planes, but also the coach (Marcelo Gallardo). The sporting committee is mainly in charge of the decisions related with the market. So, with players that we want to hire, with analyzing the squads, where do we have positions that we need to reinforce, which players are now maybe at the stage that we would eventually prefer them to to be sold? Because, of course, the clubs also need these revenues coming from player-trading.

So, it’s about the sporting decisions, not, of course, the decisions from the coach. We do not decide who is going to play or not, but in terms of especially around the market and around the players. I think it was a very brave decision from the board because very often the board members like to be involved in these kinds of operations, but they understand that it’s critical that such decisions are taken by professional people that are used to take those decisions.

The five players we hired in the winter transfer window are a result of this sporting committee’s decisions and the support we got from the board to take those decisions.

The professional standards of the Saudi Pro League…

The Saudi Pro League is a very interesting competition. We have very good players in the Saudi Pro League and we have very good organization inside the SPL with experts that I met for the first time here, but are people that know a lot about the industry. I was myself part of the Portuguese league for a very specific topic, which is the TV rights.

But what I found here is extremely professional. Now, for the product to be very attractive, we need that the competition is strong, so all clubs have to try to fight for the same results. Of course, there are clubs that are bigger than others. In this sense, I think that the work which started maybe one year ago, one year and a half ago, about attracting very important players, it has to continue.

We need to attract more players and to have those players in the different clubs, for the matches to be much more attractive. We don’t want that it’s easy to win against a small team. It should be the same concept as, for example, the Premier League, where a small team can beat a big team because the TV rights revenues are spread in a very democratic way.

The Saudi players that have impressed the most..

My players, to be very honest. So, those are the players that I like. I don’t want to emphasize one specific player because then it would be unfair for the rest of the players.

But I think we have a group of Saudi players, some of them quite senior, others quite young. They all deserve my respect — I think they are very good professionals.

Growing the Al-Ittihad brand globally…

Al-Ittihad is already a well-known club outside Saudi because it’s part of the Kingdom’s historical brand, but also because we were able to attract some young players and players like Benzema, like Kante, like Fabinho, Luis Felipe, Jota. They bring a lot of attention to the club.

But I think we need to move forward. That’s the reason, for example, this preseason will be different from the preseason we had last season. So, we will be in Europe. We will have part of the work we will do during the preseason (be) between Spain and Portugal. We will play European matches not only in Portugal and Spain, but also probably in Central Europe.

This is what we want to do. We want, first of all, to prepare our players for new challenges. We want them to play against very important teams in Europe, but we want also the international community to be aware about the quality we have in this club. And I think it is a good opportunity to showcase some of the Saudi players that we have today, as they are very, very good.

I don’t think they are well known in the market, but they will be known if we take those players and we put them in the best stadiums, playing against the best teams.

The impact of signing Karim Benzema…

Well, let’s start with off the pitch. It’s obvious, Karim is a player that is, I would say, a global player. There are very few global players. I would call it a global brand, but it’s a global player. Everyone in the world knows Karim Benzema. So, the impact from Karim Benzema followers in our club was impressive.

I think that the fact just to see Karim with the black and yellow shirt, it’s a fantastic demonstration for the world about our club and the way we can attract these kind of players.

But the second, on the pitch, it’s much more important than the first one. Karim is the Ballon d’Or winner. Karim played in probably one of the best leagues in the world. He was part of the French national team. So, the quality of Karim — no one can have any doubt about that. Karim, as you know, was injured for a certain period and probably the last two months. Now, in the last training sessions we had this week, Karim is already in very good shape and I think he will be extremely important for the rest of the season.

I’m glad to see that he’s smiling, I’m glad to see that he’s committed and I will be glad to see him on the pitch.

Addressing the supporters’ frustrations this season…

My experience about the role we have in the club cannot only be in this very short term. I understand their frustration, and their frustration is my frustration. We would love to have delivered better results during this season. But, from my experience, the right thing to do is to prepare the foundations for the future.

If we have the right foundations, we will be able to deliver the best results in the future and the right foundations, right now, is, among others, to have an academy. We have already the new land, and we will start building the academy in a very short period. The foundations are also about having a very good management team, a very good professional team. We have already a professional team in place.

The foundations are also about taking smart decisions in building the squad between international players and between Saudi players. We are taking those decisions.

Those foundations, once they are in place, the success, the sporting success, will be obvious. We need to go faster, we need to go deeper than our competitors, and we will do that. So, for our fans, that I totally respect, I understand them, but please believe that we are doing the right job right now, which is to prepare the future.

The future will be a brilliant future.

Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East
Updated 30 sec ago

Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East

Haya Alsulaiman’s mission to empower women through golf in Middle East
  • Saudi owner of Golftec Dubai is offering new avenue to embrace a sport long seen as a male domain

DUBAI: Thirty-one-year-old Haya Ghassan Alsulaiman, Saudi owner of the Dubai-based golf coaching center Golftec, is hoping to encourage more women to play the sport in the Middle East.

Already one of the US’ most popular institutions for golf development, Golftec — with Alsulaiman at the helm — launched in 2023 at Dubai City Walk.

The organization was initially founded in 1995 in the basement of a Denver, Colorado, country club, and has since become a household name around the world, operating in six countries, with more than 210 locations employing in excess of 800 full-time golf coaches.

However, it remains little known in the Middle East.

Alsulaiman is ready to change that across the UAE and wider region and, in the process, empower more women to embrace a sport that has long been seen as the domain of men.

“I am used to being the only woman in a male-dominated industry,” Alsulaiman told Arab News, explaining that she had previously worked for her father’s automotive dealership in Saudi where she was the only female employee among more than 200 men.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Alsulaiman would vacation in California with her family every summer, and would regularly play tennis with her father.

When her father injured his knee, he switched to golf and learned how to play with Golftec.

“It was much easier for my father to understand the sport with this type of learning facility,” she said. “Then he encouraged my sister to get involved by first becoming his caddy.

“The more she went with my father, the more she desired to play,” Alsulaiman said. “Then she suggested to take lessons with him at Golftec.”

Haya soon caught the bug and joined her father and sister in taking golf classes.

From 2014 she began playing golf each summer during the family holiday in California.

“The routine was to take a lesson or two at Golftec and then go out on the range to practice what we were taught in the lesson and then, two days after, go play on an official golf course,” she said. “That was our routine, week after week.”

Alsulaiman developed a great love for the sport. However, when she returned to Saudi after the summer, she had nowhere to practice and play.

“In Saudi there were not the facilities for golf that there are today and no coaches, so we could only play in the summer,” she said. “We played from summer to summer. The sport bonded our family. We so enjoyed it. We laughed, had fun and engaged in family friendly competition.”

After the pandemic, Alsulaiman decided to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Dubai. Following her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her own business — Golftec’s first branch in the Middle East.

The business allows her to do what she loves and, she said, encourage more women to play the sport.

While golf has become a popular sport in the UAE, with many golf courses and training centers, Alsulaiman said that there was nothing that matched Golftec’s teaching methodology, with the advanced use of motion technology and video feedback making it easy for trainees to follow. She also finds the learning environment less intimidating than that of a golf club.

“It’s relaxed and fun and is a perfect place to encourage more women to learn,” she said.

Just under a decade ago the idea of a Saudi female golfer would have been hard to imagine. Today, thanks to a slew of social reforms under Saudi Vision 2030, golf and many other sports are increasingly accessible to women across the country.

In 2020, the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund was held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, signaling a turning point for women’s golf in the Kingdom.

The event also launched a comprehensive national golf sustainability strategy that oversees the environmental, economic and social aspects of the sport.

In December 2023, the Royal Diriyah Golf Club was unveiled in an event that saw Saudi women and men take to the Greg Norman-designed golf course for the first time alongside international guests.

Abeer Al-Johani, director of the Federation Office at the Saudi Golf Federation, said that the strides women were making in the sport reflected the social and economic changes in the Kingdom.

“Saudi women aside, women playing golf need much more sport, more media coverage and more opportunities,” Al-Johani told Arab News. “We need similar encouragement to what men receive but I believe we are beginning to see a lot of change — a lot of women are supporting other women in the sport specifically.”

Alsulaiman and Golftec are more than playing their part in making that happen.

Big bucks Mitchell Starc, Phil Salt help Kolkata Knight Riders thrash Lucknow Super Giants in IPL

Big bucks Mitchell Starc, Phil Salt help Kolkata Knight Riders thrash Lucknow Super Giants in IPL
Updated 30 min 17 sec ago

Big bucks Mitchell Starc, Phil Salt help Kolkata Knight Riders thrash Lucknow Super Giants in IPL

Big bucks Mitchell Starc, Phil Salt help Kolkata Knight Riders thrash Lucknow Super Giants in IPL
  • Starc's 3-28 kept Lucknow down to 161-7 at Kolkata's Eden Gardens

KOLKATA: Phil Salt's rapid 89 and three wickets for Mitchell Starc helped Kolkata Knight Riders race to a crushing eight-wicket win over Lucknow Super Giants on Sunday.
Starc's 3-28 kept Lucknow down to 161-7 at Kolkata's Eden Gardens, with the other Knight Riders' bowlers putting in disciplined performances after their side elected to field first.
The Australian left-arm quick became the most expensive buy in IPL history after Kolkata shelled out $2.98 million for his services.
Opener Salt then steered the two-time IPL winners to their target in 15.4 overs for their fourth victory in five matches this season.
It was the English wicketkeeper-batsman's second half-century in the current IPL edition after he scored 54 in his team's opening win last month.
Salt held the chase together despite Kolkata losing two wickets including opener Sunil Narine for six.
He put on 120 runs with skipper Shreyas Iyer, who made 38, smashing 14 fours and three sixes in his 47-ball knock.
Players have been jostling to impress their national selectors ahead of the upcoming T20 World Cup starting June 1 in the West Indies and the United States.
Starc started slowly, leaking 10 runs in his first over, but came back strongly and sent back Deepak Hooda in his third with the help of a diving catch at backward point from Ramandeep Singh.
Mystery spinner Narine choked the flow of runs and returned figures of 1-17 before Starc bowled the 20th over for just six runs and two wickets.
He got the dangerous Nicholas Pooran on the first ball, caught behind for 45, and finished with a yorker to bowl Arshad Khan.

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement
Updated 14 April 2024

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement

Scottie Scheffler leads Masters by 1 shot on a wild day of movement
  • Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining; the course was tough as ever

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Scottie Scheffler was in the lead and seemingly in control of his game Saturday in the Masters until realizing there was no such thing at Augusta National.

He posed over another beautiful shot at the flag on the 10th hole and was stunned to see it take a hard hop over the green and roll down into the bushes. He made double bogey and suddenly was one shot behind.

“Make another bogey at 11 and all of a sudden I’m probably going from in the lead to a few out of the lead and then,” Scheffler said, “you know, things happen pretty fast out there.”

It was so fast and furious that it was hard to keep up.

Six players had at least a share of the lead at one point. There was a five-way tie for the lead early on the back nine. No one was safe. It was like that to the very end.

Scheffler made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-under 71 that gave him a one-shot lead over Collin Morikawa, the two-time major champion who has largely disappeared from the elite in golf and now is one round away from the third leg of the Grand Slam.

Bryson DeChambeau looked to be on the verge of a meltdown when he drove into the trees right of the 18th fairway, punched out to the short grass and then hit wedge from 77 yards that spun back into the cup for a birdie to sum up a wild Saturday.

“Easier than putting,” DeChambeau, adding that he was joking although there was some truth to that. He three-putted three times on the back nine.

Max Homa has gone 32 holes without a birdie and he was only two behind after a round of 17 pars and one bogey for a 73. Xander Schauffele has gone 25 holes without a bogey, and that goes a long way. He was five back after a 70.

Augusta National didn’t need a ferocious wind to be wildly entertaining. The course was tough as ever, with a wind that would have felt scary if not for the day before. The greens made players feel as though they were putting on linoleum floors.

Scheffler was at 7-under 209 as he goes for a second Masters green jacket and tries to extend a dominant stretch that includes two wins on tough courses (Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass) and a runner-up finish in his last three tournaments.

“It’s nice to have that experience, but going into tomorrow, that’s really all that it is,” he said.

Morikawa made two tough pars to finish off a 69 — of those was a long birdie putt that hit the lip and spun 12 feet away. He is the only player to break par all three days at this Masters. Not bad for a someone who only found a swing key on Monday, switched putters after the first round and hasn’t had a top 10 since the first week of the year.

“If you asked me at the beginning of the week I’d be one back heading into Sunday, I would have taken that any time,” Morikawa said. “You give yourself a chance with 18 holes left, that’s all you can really do.”

Another shot back was Homa, whose last birdie was on the fourth hole of the second round. He has made 32 pars in his last 36 holes.

Eight players were separated by five shots going into the final round, where the greens are likely to be even faster, crispier and more frightening.

Tiger Woods was not among them. Neither was Rory McIlroy.

Woods, having made his Masters-record 24th consecutive cut Friday, started the third round seven shots out of the lead and hopeful of at least making his massive following think there might be more magic left in that battered 48-year-old body.

Instead, Woods posted his highest round in three decades playing the majors. He shot an 82, the third time he has failed to break 80 in a major, and the first since the 2015 US Open.

“Just hit the ball in all the places that I know I shouldn’t hit it,” Woods said.

McIlroy came to the Masters thinking this might be the year he finally got the last leg of the career Grand Slam. All he could muster was a 71 that left him 10 shots behind with 20 players in front of him.

There were no shortage of challengers.

Ludvig Aberg, the rising Swedish star playing in his first major, was among those who had a brief share of the lead until missing a pair of short par putts on the back nine. He still managed a 70 and was only three shots behind.

Another newcomer to the Masters, Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark, had the lead to himself with three straight birdies around the turn. He celebrated that good fortunate by running off five straight bogeys, putting the ball in the water on both par 5s.

And then there was DeChambeau, who started the third round tied with Scheffler and Homa.

DeChambeau kept making enough birdies to hang around and was only one shot behind until he decided to go for the green from the trees on the par-5 15th. He went well right toward the 17th fairway — the second time in as many days he played a par 5 from two holes — only this one didn’t work out so well.

He chunked his wedge and watched it tumble into the pond. He took a penalty drop, pitched on and two-putted for double bogey. And then he three-putted for bogey on the 16th. And right when it appeared to be falling apart, he made his surprise birdie to limit the damage to 75. He was four shots behind.

Scheffler didn’t escape the craziness. He reached 8 under quickly by chipping in across the green on No. 1 and making a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 3. But all it took was two holes to make it feel like his head was spinning.

What saved his day was a 7-foot par putt on No. 12 and then a 30-foot eagle putt on the par-5 13th that dropped on its final turn and elicited rare emotion from Scheffler.

“C’mon, baby!” he yelled when the putt dropped.

“Things got a little dicey in the middle,” Scheffler said. “On No. 10, I hit what I thought was a decent shot 8 feet from the hole and it wound up in the bushes. I did a good job of staying patient.”

He’ll need another dose for Sunday, even with the experience of winning a Masters. Two years ago, he had a three-shot lead going into the final round and spent the morning in tears as his wife gave him soothing words of confidence.

Now his wife is home in Dallas expecting their first child at the end of the month. Scheffler brought in his best friends from home to stay with him.

“I didn’t want to be in the house all by myself this weekend. Didn’t really seem that exciting to me,” Scheffler said.

There’s plenty of that inside the ropes.

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300
Updated 14 April 2024

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300

Holloway’s last-second KO of Gaethje likely will be lasting memory of UFC 300
  • Holloway-Gaethje was arguably the most anticipated fight on the loaded card, and it not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them before a sellout crowd of 20,067
  • In the evening’s final fight, Pereira dropped Hill to the canvas with a straight left hand and then pounded him

LAS VEGAS: Alex Pereira left no doubt he was the true light heavyweight champion in the main event, knocking out Jamahal Hill 3:14 of the first round Saturday night.

But the lasting image of UFC 300, one that likely will resonate for years to come, was Max Holloway’s last-second knockout of Justin Gaethje for the ceremonial BMF title belt.

Holloway-Gaethje was arguably the most anticipated fight on the loaded card, and it not only lived up to expectations, but surpassed them before a sellout crowd of 20,067 that roared over the final seconds and its stunning conclusion.

“That fight sucked the life out of everybody tonight,” UFC President Dana White said. “People ask me what I do. I sell holy (stuff) moments. That was the ultimate holy (stuff) moment. Let’s just talk about his fight for the rest of the press conference.”

The UFC — which had its third-highest gate at $16.5 million — awarded Holloway a $600,000 bonus for his performance.

Even though Holloway (26-7) was well on his way to a victory by decision — two judges had him ahead 39-37 — the former featherweight champion could have run out the clock.

He instead pointed to the floor in the final seconds and then traded blows with Gaethje (25-5). It was a tremendous combination of punches from both fighters before the one that sent the now ex-BMF champ to the mat with just one second remaining in the five-round fight.

“This is the moment,” Holloway said about going for the KO. “This is what the BMF is known for. If that’s not a BMF moment, I don’t know what is. If Justin was up, he would’ve given me those 10 seconds.”

“That’s why Max Holloway is beloved,” White said. “He’s got the fight won and in there with one of the most dangerous fighters in the business. That’s like movie (stuff). It’s the fight of the year. If something beats that as fight of the year, holy (stuff).”

Holloway, who also used a spinning kick at the end of the first round to bloody Gaethje’s nose, was in control throughout most of the fight.

“I think it broke his nose. ... Any less of a man couldn’t do what Justin Gaethje does,” Holloway said.

In the evening’s final fight, Pereira dropped Hill to the canvas with a straight left hand and then pounded him. Referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight, giving the Brazilian the victory.

Pereira, 36, was a minus-132 favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“I see myself as the champion. I didn’t want to let the belt go to my head,” Pereira said through an interpreter. “I had to step in and win the championship.”

Hill, 32, was the previous title holder, but a torn Achilles tendon forced him to vacate the championship last July. That put the belt in Pereira’s hands, eventually setting up this matchup and his fourth pay-per-view event in 16 months.

As would be expected from a milestone card number, this was a strong lineup that included 12 current or former champions, and 11 who have headlined UFC pay-per-view events.

Zhang Weili (25-3) retained her women’s strawweight championship in the co-main event, beating No. 1 challenger Yan Xiaonan (18-4) by unanimous decision. Each judge scored the fight 49-45.

Zhang nearly choked out Yan to end the first round. Yan, however, found a way to take the fight the five-round distance.

“She bounced back very quickly,” Zhang said through an interpreter.

No. 4 lightweight challenger Arman Tsarukyan (22-3) won by split decision over top-ranked challenger and former champion Charles Oliveira (34-10). Each scorecard was 29-28, two in favor of Tsarukyan.

“I thought all (the) judges were going to give me the decision,” Tsarukyan said.

Three-time NCAA wrestling champion Bo Nickal (6-0) led off the five-fight main card by submitting Cody Brundage (10-6) by rear-naked choke hold at 3:38 of the second round.

“I’m a little bit embarrassed with that performance because I expected to go in there and completely dominate,” Nickal said.

One of the more notable matchups on the undercard was between two-time US Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison and International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Holly Holm.

Harrison (17-1), who made her UFC debut, dominated Holm (15-7). She won the bantamweight bout by submission with a rear-naked choke at 1:47 of the second round.

Retired champion Amanda Nunes posted a video of herself on social media listening to Harrison in the cage and wondering why she didn’t mention her by name.

“I didn’t call Amanda’s name because Amanda’s not the UFC champion,” Harrison said. “I thought she was happily retired. I would love to win the UFC title, and if Amanda wants to come back, I would welcome her with open arms.”

White said he hopes to see Nunes return.

“I think she retired too soon,” White said.

Also on the undercard, second-ranked challenger Jiri Prochazka (30-4) put himself on track to reclaim the light heavyweight championship with a technical knockout at 3:17 of the second round of fifth-ranked Aleksandar Rakic (14-4). Prochazka lost his belt to Pereira in November on a second-round TKO.

“Whoever will win tonight in the main event, I want to take (him on),” Prochazka said.


White said Conor McGregor will fight in UFC 303 against Michael Chandler on June 29 in Las Vegas. Also, Islam Makhachev will fight Dustin Poirier at UFC 302 on June 1 in Newark, New Jersey.

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona
Updated 14 April 2024

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona

Real Madrid win at Mallorca while resting players for Man City trip. Atletico beat Girona
  • The victory on the Mediterranean island increased Madrid’s commanding lead of the league to 11 points before second-placed Barcelona played at Cadiz
  • Ancelotti equaled Zinedine Zidane with 183 league games coached for Madrid, second only to Miguel Muñoz’s record 424 league games

BARCELONA, Spain: Real Madrid ground out a 1-0 win at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Saturday while resting top players ahead of their decisive Champions League game at Manchester City.

Midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni scored the only goal three minutes after halftime.

The victory on the Mediterranean island increased Madrid’s commanding lead of the league to 11 points before second-placed Barcelona played at Cadiz later.

Madrid visit Manchester City on Wednesday with their quarterfinal poised after a 3-3 draw in Spain’s capital this week.

“We have a very important game Wednesday,” Tchouameni said. “We played a very difficult game against City and we are tired, but we know that when we play for Madrid we have to give it our all until the end.”

Vinicius Junior and Eduardo Camavinga played the final half hour as substitutes. Dani Carvajal went on for the final minutes, while Rodrygo and Toni Kroos never left the bench. Jude Bellingham started and was replaced by Camavinga.

A long strike by Tchouameni that deflected off a defender before finding the net was the only way Madrid got past the defense of Javier Aguirre’s Mallorca.

Tchouameni will miss the game in England to serve a suspension. A holding midfielder, he was used as a central defender by manager Carlo Ancelotti in the first leg against City while Madrid dealt with injuries.

After facing City, Madrid will then host Barcelona in La Liga next weekend.

Ancelotti equaled Zinedine Zidane with 183 league games coached for Madrid, second only to Miguel Muñoz’s record 424 league games.

Mallorca were playing their first game since losing the Copa del Rey final on penalties to Athletic Bilbao last weekend. They remained in 15th place.


Antoine Griezmann scored twice as Atletico Madrid beat Girona 3-1 to boost their chances of finishing in the top four.

Griezmann got his first league goal since December by converting a penalty after a handball by Girona. His leveler in the 34th canceled Artem Dovbyk’s early opener.

Alvaro Morata’s hustle proved key to putting the hosts ahead in first-half stoppage time when he chased down a ball before it could cross the end-line and whipped it into the area for Ángel Correo to head into the top corner.

Griezmann, Atletico’s all-time top scorer, then blasted in a loose ball in the 50th for his 13th league goal of the campaign.

Dovbyk moved ahead of Bellingham as the leading league scorer with his 17th to give Girona the fourth-minute lead. The Ukraine striker tapped in a low cross from Yan Couto after a quick team passing move disrupted Atletico’s coverage.

Girona remained in third place at four points clear of Atletico in fourth. Atletico moved five points ahead of Athletic Bilbao in fifth. The top four finishers in Spain earn Champions League berths for next season.

“It was very important to win today. We want to be in the Champions League next season,” Griezmann said. “We didn’t start well but when we took it to them we could turn it around.”

Atletico visit Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday leading their Champions League quarterfinal after a 2-1 first-leg win in Spain.

Rayo Vallecano also drew with Getafe 0-0 at home.