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

Saudi Arabia has already launched a hostile takeover of professional golf. It has invested billions of dollars in world soccer. Now it wants to own professional boxing, too.

An ambitious and expensive Saudi plan that would reshape the economics, structure and future of boxing is in the final stages of approval, according to two people with direct knowledge of the plan.

Saudi Arabia’s giant sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund, would finance the project. The fund is holding final negotiations about dispersing the initial investment — said to be as much as $2 billion — that the plan would require, according to the two people involved in the planning. Both people declined to be identified because the project does not have final approval.

The Public Investment Fund, known as the P.I.F., declined to comment.

Under the Saudi proposal, about 200 of the top men’s boxers in the world would be signed and then divided into 12 weight classes in what would amount to a global boxing league.

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

And unlike many of the sports Saudi Arabia has previously attempted to disrupt, professional boxing may be ripe for reimagining. 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 that arrange their own fights and award their own titles. That leaves fans to sift through a confusing system that frequently stymies meetings between the best boxers and one that boasts multiple “champions” in the same weight classes.

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