x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abu Dhabi targeted as big venue for ultimate fighting

The heads of the Ultimate Fighting Championship are expected in Abu Dhabi this week for talks they hope will help bring the fast-growing sport to the capital.

ABU DHABI // The heads of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are expected in Abu Dhabi this week for talks they hope will help bring the fast-growing sport to the capital. The UFC president, Dana White, and the organisation's chief executive, Lorenzo Fertitta, have been vocal in the past over their desire to bring the mixed martial arts (MMA) competition to Abu Dhabi, and sources close to the pair have confirmed they are expected to head to the UAE in the next few days in search of sponsors.

While interest in boxing has waned in recent years, the popularity of UFC has exploded, and it has become one of the fastest growing sports around the world. Having started out as a competition pitting different martial arts styles against one another, UFC has developed as an MMA sport, which involves fighters utilising skills from several martial arts in a battle of skill, strength and power. UFC chief executive Fertitta recently said it was his intention to bring the sport to Abu Dhabi. If successful, its supporters envisage MMA becoming a highlight of Abu Dhabi's sporting calendar.

The competition was devised by the Gracie family, jiu jitsu practitioners and instructors who developed the tournament to showcase their own style of jiu jitsu. Royce Gracie became the first UFC winner and went on to success in two further MMA tournaments. "UFC is growing very fast. They are spreading out all over the world," Gracie said during a jiu jitsu seminar in Abu Dhabi. "They are not the only ones. There are other shows in town too. Art of War is a big show in China. There are some good fighters there."

Gracie is in town to run a seminar on his family's brand of jiu jitsu. He is planning to return in February, and would be excited to come back to watch UFC live in Abu Dhabi. "Why not [bring UFC to Abu Dhabi], what stops it from coming here? What stops it from going all over the world? Not just UFC, but any MMA show," said Gracie. "In the beginning what stops it is education. You have got to educate the crowd. It is a sport like boxing, a sport like football.

"Kids break their ankles and arms every year in football, does that make it a dangerous sport? No. There are all kinds of regulations now that control not just the UFC, but all the MMAs. It is a safe sport." The popularity of jiu jitsu is growing rapidly in the UAE. The inaugural World Jiu Jitsu Cup took place successfully in the capital in May, with the finals attracting 2,000 spectators, and pupils across the capital are learning the sport in schools.

"What is happening here with jiu jitsu is awesome," said Gracie, "They are teaching kids how to do this stuff from a young age. Some might become fighters in world competition, most of them will just learn for self defence in case one day they need it. It is a great thing." sports@thenational.ae