Dubai: Twelve months after its spectacular return to the high-octane MMA Octagon, Abu Dhabi has been hailed as the undisputed international fight capital of UFC, with its President, Dana White, pledging that “all the big fights are going to be in Abu Dhabi”.
It was in September last year, following the mega five-year contract that the Department of Culture & Tourism, Abu Dhabi signed with UFC, that the UAE capital staged it first major MMA event since 2014. UFC 242: Khabib vs Poirier headlined an enthralling inaugural Showdown Week at Yas Island.
On the first anniversary of that ground-breaking event where Khabib successfully defended his title, UFC boss White has praised Abu Dhabi for its role in supporting the promotion and also hosting four events at ‘Fight Island’ during the COVID-19 pandemic in July.
“UFC 242 put Abu Dhabi firmly on the map. Now, it is the global fight capital of the world,” said White.
“It was helped by Khabib’s victory, of course. He has many, many fans in the region for obvious reasons and they just went wild. But it was so much more than that. Abu Dhabi just gets it.
“They know how to put on a show, how to look after you, how to get things done. With will and determination you get things done — that’s Abu Dhabi. The people at DCT — Abu Dhabi are incredible to work with. Why would I want to go anywhere else?
“It used to be Las Vegas, now Abu Dhabi really is the international fight capital. We have world champions from all around the world so, from that sense too, all the big fights are going to be in Abu Dhabi.”
Abu Dhabi’s rise as a global UFC powerhouse has coincided with a new wave of Arab fighters making their mark in the Octagon.
It was in Abu Dhabi during UFC 242 in September 2019 that White said that it would not be too long before fighters from the UAE and the Middle East started claiming UFC titles. Since then, four Arab fighters have featured in UFC events — Dubai-based Tunisian Mounir Lazzez, Iraqi’s Amir Albazi, Morocco’s Youssef Zalal and Jordan’s Ali Al Qaisi. Three of them — Albazi, Zalal and Lazzez — have recorded victories.
Lazzez, a UAE resident, admits the buzz of UFC 242, gave him extra motivation to chase his dream. A dream that became reality with victory on his debut during Fight Island in July.
“Ever since Khabib came to fight during UFC 242, the whole region has become obsessed with UFC and MMA,” said Lazeez, who is nicknamed ‘The Sniper’.
“With Khabib being Muslim, he has been able to amass a huge fan base in the region, however there is still the need for a local superstar as well that people can root for as well.”
“Abu Dhabi has created a lot of waves by being the first country in the region to host the large-scale and global event this year. This gives locally based fighters like me a great opportunity, as we are in such proximity to the capital of martial arts in the region, while giving Abu Dhabi and UAE a global platform to showcase the country,” he added.
“I am truly blessed to be able to represent the Middle East and North Africa on one of the biggest platforms. It is a great opportunity to show people how someone who was born and raised in this region, can make it the big leagues. Fighting and claiming titles in the Middle East, helped me catapult my career to UFC on an international scale. “
UFC Arabia role
UFC Arabia, the first Arabic-language UFC streaming platform, has also been instrumental in fuelling UFC’s popularity in the UAE and the Middle East. Available across platforms in 21 countries in the region, it is a one-stop shop for all things UFC with fans able to access live events as well as the full library of UFC content. Fans can tune in to relive all the action from UFC 242 any time on demand on UFC Arabia.
To celebrate this unique anniversary milestone, UFC Arabia will be running a competition with one lucky winner getting his hands on an exclusive UFC 242 prize bundle that includes a pair of signed gloves from UFC 242 winner Paul Felder and a one-year subscription to UFC Arabia. The contest can be entered by logging on to www.ufc.com/giveaway.