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Punch your weight in the UFC knowledge stakes

What could be more embarrassing than being out with friends and not knowing the ins and outs of ultimate fighting, which makes its Middle East debut tomorrow night on Yas Island? Save yourself from an awkward fate.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world's most successful mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion. It is a US-based company owned by Zuffa, a sports marketing firm established by Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and the UFC president Dana White. It hosts live events around the world and has many of the world's top MMA fighters under contract, including Georges St Pierre, BJ Penn and Anderson Silva.

The UFC, inspired by the Brazilian vale tudo - anything goes - competitions, was created in 1993 by Art Davie and Rorie Gracie, whose family is credited with pioneering Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The concept was to pit martial artists against each other to see which would emerge victorious; for example, who would win in a fight between a jiu-jitsu black belt and an elite kickboxer.

Initially, the show was hugely successful, drawing in large numbers of pay-per-view television viewers, but its lack of rules and the bloody spectacle soon drew the attention of politicians, including the American senator John McCain, who labelled it "human cockfighting" and launched a campaign against no-holds-barred fighting. The UFC lost its television contract, was banned in 36 of the 50 US states and was on the verge of folding when Zuffa bought it for US$2 million (Dh7.3m) in 2001.

Having introduced a series of regulations based on those applied to Olympic sports such as boxing and jiu-jitsu, the sport has slowly gained the support of various US state athletic commissions, including those in Nevada and New Jersey, and is now operating in 44 states. Saturday's UFC 112: Invincible event at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi will be available in 500 million homes in 130 countries, says Marshall Zelaznik, its managing director of international development.

Blood. It would be a lie to say those watching at the specially created arena at Ferrari World will not see blood, or even the occasional broken leg or arm. The UFC, and MMA in general, is about as close to a real streetfight scenario, minus weapons, as it is possible to get within a controlled environment. Wearing four-ounce (113 gram) gloves and throwing elbows and knees at each other, cuts are inevitable and sometimes deep. But when cleaned up, the cuts rarely look as bad as the blood they produce.

Lee Charteris, the head of operations at the UFC: 112 organisers Flash, said there was more sound and lighting being rigged up for the event than was used at the Aerosmith and Beyoncé concerts held during last year's Formula 1 event at the same venue. If that doesn't get you, the roar of thousands of fight fans, dressed in what has become the standard MMA uniform of dark T-shirts, faded grey or black jeans and baseball caps, will.

When UFC fighters go to war, there is little of the posturing or pre-fight badmouthing often seen at boxing press conferences. Wednesday's press conference at the Yas Hotel could not have been more mushy. The fighters all share the same hotel and, while Friday's weigh-in may not see the fighters embrace, they certainly will not be gunning for each other's blood on the spot either. It is unusual for the winning fighter not to speak well of his opponent and help him out of the Octagon afterwards.

The fights take place in an eight-sided cage made specifically for the UFC. There are presently seven in existence. The UK-based cage, which took a month to ship to the UAE, will be used on Saturday.

Yes, 31 to be exact, as well as set guidelines for round times, commission-approved gloves, weight divisions and mandatory drug testing, plus the presence of independent judges and qualified fight doctors. There will even be a plastic surgeon on hand to treat any deep cuts. The list of fight rules includes no butting; no kicking of a downed opponent; no groin or throat strikes; no strikes to the back of the head; and no downward point-of-elbow strikes.

All non-championship bouts are three rounds of five minutes. All championship bouts, of which there are two on Saturday, will be five rounds of five minutes.

A purpose-built outdoor arena with a capacity of 12,000 spectators has been built for the event, the UFC's first foray into the Middle East.

The event was not sold out as of yesterday and more upper-grandstand tickets were made available to meet demand. Prices start at Dh395 and are available from www.boxofficeme.com, selected Virgin Megastores across the UAE and the UFC stand at the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi.

It will be available at the venue, which will open at 5pm. There will be signposts and guides.

Saturday's forecast is for dry and sunny weather turning cloudy overnight with a high of 35°C. loatway@thenational.ae

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