Sunday, July 21

Saudi Arabia’s Next Billion-Dollar Sports Play: A Boxing Takeover

Each class would include around 15 fighters each, allowing top talent to face off against each other regularly. The move would effectively create a single boxing entity that would replace the sometimes chaotic and frustrating system of warring fight promoters and sanctioning bodies. The new entity would have the resources and fighters to stage high-profile cards around the world.

And unlike many of the sports that Saudi Arabia has already attempted to revolutionize, professional boxing may be ripe for reinvention. The sport has lost its luster and some of its allure in recent decades and is currently run by a tangled web of rival promoters and disparate sanctioning bodies who stage their own bouts and award their own titles. That leaves fans to sift through a confusing system that often hampers bouts between top boxers and one that boasts multiple “champions” in the same weight classes.

The new series would operate under a single brand, an arrangement similar to the business model of the hugely popular Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has steadily eroded boxing’s global popularity. In the UFC, 15 fighters are ranked in championships by weight division, as well as a pound-for-pound ranking of the best fighters. In the Saudi Arabia-backed event, boxers could have moved up the rankings but also been eliminated from the series and replaced by new talent.

The project has been under discussion for more than a year, the news was first reported by Reuters on Tuesday evening. It was developed with the help of several consulting firms, including Boston Consulting Group, which has helped PIF on several projects. If an investment decision is confirmed in the coming weeks, the series could begin as early as the first half of next year, according to one of the people involved in the planning.