Managing director Lubomir Guedjev intends the new organisation to be a player in MMA but not competition for the UFC, writes Osman Samiuddin.
MMA: Abu Dhabi Warriors are ready for weekend battle
The UAE is hoping to leave a significant imprint on the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting circuit as it gears up to host the first Abu Dhabi Warriors Fighting Championship tomorrow in the capital.
Eighteen fighters from 13 different countries will fight nine matches across various weight divisions, the headline bout in the heavyweight division between Croatia's Maro Perak and the American Travis Wiuff, a former UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter.
The card is not the country's first foray into the MMA scene. Flash entertainment own a stake in UFC, the leading global MMA promotion, and UFC held one of its cards in Abu Dhabi in 2010 and in May this year the Dubai-based fight promoter Tam Khan organised a 12-fight card for the inaugural Dubai Fight Championship.
But this is the first step on to the circuit by UAE Jiu-Jitsu, for whom this event is one of the headline events in their calendar. That backing could prove crucial to how well the sport takes root.
Abu Dhabi Warriors itself is a new entity, created, according to its managing director Lubomir Guedjev, just a few months ago. "I've been working with Abu Dhabi for many years now and in the last year I've been working in UAE Jiu-Jitsu [as a technical director]," said Guedjev, a former Bulgarian MMA fighter of pedigree.
"The idea was born because MMA goes together with jiu-jitsu as a martial art. The people I work for were very interested in doing a professional MMA event so UAE Jiu-Jitsu has organised and created this."
The event is also receiving support from the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
The card will go some way to revealing just how feasible the UAE can be - as Guedjev hopes for it to be - the next big MMA destination. There is significant prize money at stake; organisers at the press conference yesterday said it was in the region of US$100,000 (Dh367,300) - although Guedjev was later reluctant to put an exact figure on it. The event will also be broadcast locally and available around the world live online.
The UFC, the biggest game in town, might be the natural promotion to emulate, but that is being played down currently.
"The UFC has been the main promotion for a long time but you need to have other promotions below to bring more fighters in to the scene," said John McCarthy, the head referee for the night and the first ever head referee of the UFC, a circuit legend. "AD Warriors is a new organisation and you need those for people to take their first steps into the sport."
"We do not want to be a competitor to anyone, this is the wrong direction of thinking," Guedjev added. "We want to create something beautiful, something professional, a platform where fighters can show their abilities. We're not going up against or aiming to become the competitor of anyone."
Guedjev is happy for now to "put oil in the engine and see how it runs". There are no local fighters on this card but he hopes that by the time of their next event, in Abu Dhabi next February, there will be.
"On an international scale we want to be the next landmark for MMA," he said.
"On a local scale we want to be promoting martial arts, to create local fighters. There are only a couple of local fighters we have heard of and their level is not very high. We wanted to bring high-level fighters from around the world to create that interest. From the next event we are open to anyone from the Arab world who wishes to compete."
Creating that interest this time round might not be easy, however. The Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix will hog much of the limelight and the Pro League continues its programme over the weekend. There was not much they could do about the timing though, Guedjev said.
"We were obligated to this from when we reserved the venue. We didn't know that Formula 1 was at the same time and whether it is going to have a good or bad effect on it I'm not sure."
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