The UAE is among the Gulf countries in the running to host the crossover fight between Conor McGregor and Manny Pacquiao, with the management company driving negotiations saying talks to get the bout signed are developing at pace.
McGregor, one of sport's most high-profile athletes, created major headlines late on Friday when announcing on social media that he was coming out of retirement to face Pacquiao in a boxing match in the Middle East.
The Irishman, a two-division UFC champion, had called time on his fight career in June – the third time he has done so in four years. He last competed in January, defeating Donald Cerrone within 40 seconds of his UFC return in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Pacquiao has not fought since July last year.
On Saturday, the eight-division champion’s camp responded to the McGregor news, with a statement from the Philippine senator’s office reading: “For the sake of all the Filipino Covid-19 victims, Senator Manny Pacquiao will be fighting UFC superstar Conor McGregor next year.
“The huge portion of his earnings will proceed to those who are affected nationwide by the pandemic.”
Speaking to The National on Saturday, Paradigm Sports Management, who represent both McGregor and Pacquiao, said there was significant interest from inside and outside the Middle East to host the fight, with the UAE among those in contention.
“It’s certainly an option,” said Azhar Muhammad Saul, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Paradigm. “Of course there’s two or three countries that you’d normally expect here. If you narrow down the scope geographically, it’s the GCC. It’s one of a few markets that are interested.
"We’re deep in negotiations with multiple parties now and we’re confident either at the end of the year or early next year that the super fight will take place.”
Muhammad Saul said the date would be determined by the fight location. Pacquiao, the current WBA (Super) welterweight champion, has for some time been linked with competing in the region, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain previously mooted.
“Realistically we’re looking at a window between the end of December to early January," Muhammad Saul said. "Depending on which location the fight takes place will determine what date it will happen, because different countries have different event obligations, Covid-19 protocols, travel and so on and so forth.
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“A fight of this magnitude, we see this as something to give back to the wider population. It’s a gift really. You can think about it in two ways: it’s been a tough year for everybody and to have such a major super fight happening just uplifts everyone. We’re looking at maximising that from an events point of view.”
Muhammad Saul said the fight, which is expected to headline an impressive card, would ideally take place with fans in attendance, but that all those involved in the deal were “cognisant of the world that we’re living in at the moment”.
On how Paradigm’s relationship with both fighters makes an agreement more likely, Muhammad Saul said: “It certainly helps as we acknowledge the appetite from both sides. Both fighters want it. We also work closely with the UFC and had a meeting about this match-up and they are on board as well. Manny’s motivation is to give back to the community - he sees this as a form of giving back to the people.
“Conor’s activity was never in question; he always wanted to fight. The three-fight season was not rhetoric, it was something he was deeply committed to. In light of the pandemic, Conor has spent this period giving back to his community and focusing his time on his businesses and philanthropic endeavors, while staying active and fit.
“Conor’s looking forward to getting back on track with his personal goals and giving the fans of the world a fight for the ages, while seeing in the dawn of better times for all in 2021.”
Audie Attar, Paradigm’s founder and CEO, added: “Like we say, you should stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. It’s a very fluid situation, but we’re deep in negotiations with a number of different parties.
“Our expectation is to get this thing wrapped up quickly so we can start the lead-up and the build-up to it. You saw Conor release some video of him in the ring yesterday, so he’s already in great shape as it is.
“I’ve come to learn that Manny is one of the greatest fighters of all time for a reason: he’s a machine. He’s not only a senator doing the State’s work day-in, day-out for his beloved country, but training is a fundamental part of his life.
“They’ve both been keeping fit, active and healthy so they’ll want to get into camp quite quickly. So I’d say stay tuned.”
McGregor has already been involved in a boxing match, when in 2017 he took on the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr in a money-spinning bout at the T-Mobile Arena in Nevada. Mayweather won by TKO in the 10th round.