Saudi Arabia plotting new boxing league to shake up sport

Tyson Fury’s fight against Oleksandr Usyk was just one of a number of big-name fights to be held in Riyadh (Getty Images)
Tyson Fury’s fight against Oleksandr Usyk was just one of a number of big-name fights to be held in Riyadh (Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is in discussions with multiple boxing stakeholders to create a league, potentially reshaping the competitive landscape of the sport, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

PIF is looking to invest in a joint venture with some of the sport’s stakeholders that would feature more boxing bouts, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A handful of leading promoters including Matchroom Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions are involved in the discussions that could result in a deal valuing the new entity between $4-5 billion, one of the people said. PIF wants to create a venture that would bring the main sport’s organisers together, in which it would take a minority stake, the person added.

Turki al-Sheikh, a close advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been heavily involved in the sports sector and is chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, was overseeing the final discussions around a potential deal about a month ago, a second person added.

Reuters could not establish the details around how a league would be structured.

PIF and Matchroom Boxing declined to comment and Golden Boy Promotions did not respond to requests for comment.

Currently the sport is made up of boxing organisations including the World Boxing Council, the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Association, and the World Boxing Organisation, which each have their own rules for championship belts.

Saudi Arabia has poured billions of dollars into sport as it seeks to wean the kingdom off of oil dependency under de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 program, which aims to bring in tourism, boost the private sector, and create jobs.

Boxing is the latest sport to attract possible investment from the PIF, which is chaired by the crown prince, after deals across golf, Formula 1, and football. The fund has also been considering an investment in a new cycling league, Reuters has reported.

“Boxing has the potential to attract awareness for investors to the kingdom,” said Sebastion Sons, senior researcher at consultancy CARPO.

“By investing in sport, Saudi Arabia wants to get more market access, establish new political and economic networks, wants to gain attraction as a tourist destination, and also wants to raise global awareness for the transformation Saudi Arabia is undergoing.”

The PIF shook up the world of golf by funding the LIV Golf series, in a move that created a rivalry with the PGA Tour and led to a shock deal to merge the tours that was announced last year.

That deal is now at risk after talks between the PGA and LIV have stalled and as a U.S. senate panel called it an attempt by Saudi Arabia’s government to “buy influence” in U.S. sports.

Saudi Arabia has held some of the biggest fights in recent years (Getty Images)
Saudi Arabia has held some of the biggest fights in recent years (Getty Images)

Critics accuse the country of using its sovereign wealth fund to engage in “sportswashing” in the face of heavy criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

“If sport washing is going to increase my GDP by way of 1%, then I will continue doing sport washing,” the crown prince told Fox News last year.

The kingdom has already hosted some of boxing’s biggest fights and events. “There is big opportunity in boxing” Al-Sheikh told ESPN earlier this year. “But you must improve the market.”

SURJ Sports Investments, previously called SRJ Sports Investments and owned by PIF, bought a stake in the United States’ Professional Fighters League in August 2023.

Since then, boxers like heavyweight Tyson Fury have made their way to Riyadh for fights, attended by Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined the kingdom’s soccer league last year.