Abu Dhabi: Dana White, the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), wants to see populous nations like China and India feed off the Middle East success story and take combat sport like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to the next level.
White, who turned around the UFC into a global multi billion-dollar enterprise in less than two decades, was overjoyed to see the success reaped by UFC 242: The Khabib-vs-Poirier fight that concluded the Abu Dhabi Showdown Week at ‘The Arena’ on Yas Island on Saturday night.
More than 15,000 eager fans flocked the temporary indoor venue — giving White and the UFC a lot of hope for the future growth of the sport in the region and beyond. “We kickstarted this market 10 years ago. We came in and people loved it. Now, we have this new five-year deal. I am telling you that in the next five years, MMA and UFC are going to be massive, massive here,” White told media on the sidelines of the fight.
“I don’t want to say anything probably because you know we’ve talked to the Royal family and their backstage crew, and I don’t want to say anything until it’s concrete and it’s done. But one thing I can tell you guys is that the next level is going to be mind-boggling,” he promised.
Saudi Arabia’s hosting of major boxing bouts — like the Amir Khan win over Billy Dib in Jeddah in mid-July and the much publicised Anthony Joshua-vs-Andy Ruiz fight on December 7 in Diriyah — has given White even more hope to dream. “The Middle East as a whole has the power to do whatever they want to do. Look at the big one [Joshua-vs-Ruiz fight] going to Saudi Arabia. Who knows what else can happen here? We will see. All I can tell you is that MMA and the UFC will be basking in glory in this country in the next five years,” he promised.
Added to this is the sudden rise in interest witnessed in China when home favourite Weili Zhang took just 42 seconds to subdue world champion Jessica Andrade and earn herself the women’s Strawweight title from the Brazilian.
“The Weili Zhang fight was massive for us. Her growth as a star in the last week has been phenomenal. I am going to hit you guys with the numbers pretty soon. This is what I’ve always said and it is pretty much like the Conor McGregor thing. When McGregor won, everybody in the world thought he was Irish. That’s exactly what has happened to China today with this one fight,” White said.
“In India, this is the first fight that is trending off the charts right now. It is crazy in India. I’ve been waiting for a Chinese athlete to possibly win the world championships or break into the top five and here we are with Weili Zhang. Now, we are very focused on India and finding some talent there and cultivating the talent. We are very excited about this next step. And believe me, there is no time frame. We want this to happen ASAP [as soon as possible],” the 50-year-old added.