Exclusive: First look at 'The Arena' on Yas Island ahead of Khabib Nurmagomedov's UFC return
The National given first glance at Abu Dhabi venue under construction that will hold 13,000 spectators to see Khabib's return to the octagon at UFC 242 in September
Preparations are progressing well for the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi later this year, with tickets almost selling out immediately and the full fight card to be announced within days, local organisers say.
The world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion will on September 7 make a third stop in the capital and first since 2014, when UFC 242 concludes Abu Dhabi Showdown Week at The Arena on Yas Island.
Part of the five-year partnership between UFC and the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT-Abu Dhabi), which was announced in April, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s lightweight unification bout against Dustin Poirier headlines the event.
Four fights have been already confirmed, with another four to come early next week and at least 12 planned overall. An all-female bout - the first in the UAE - has been mooted.
Expected to house upwards of 13,000 spectators, tickets for UFC 242 went on sale earlier this month, with the initial batch snapped up within the first four days. As of now, only hotel packages are still available.
• Khabib Nurmagomedov makes return in Abu Dhabi: What to expect at UFC 242
“The amazing response to ticket sales has been unprecedented for a UAE-based sporting event,” Fatima Saeed Al Baloushi, the DCT’s acting events calendar planning and development manager, Abu Dhabi Events Bureau, told The National. “To sell 100 per cent of UFC 242 tickets allocated for public sales in under 96 hours underlines the immense appetite of local, regional and international fans to experience world-class UFC events in Abu Dhabi.
“A sold-out event was always our objective, but the speed at which tickets sold out was a pleasant - if not completely unexpected - surprise. We still have limited seats that are bundled with hotels and can be sold via the different hotels that partnered with us.”
“Khabib is one of the biggest stars in the UFC and, in many ways, his immense popularity transcends the sport,” Al Baloushi said. “As a bona-fide superstar, Khabib’s title defence against Dustin Poirier will provide a fitting finale to Abu Dhabi Showdown Week and UFC 242. While both headline-bout fighters are tremendously well respected in the sport and by fans in general, Khabib is a major draw for fight fans.”
On finalising the fight card, and the possibility of an all-female clash, Al Baloushi said: “We are in daily conversations with our partners at the UFC regarding the final card. There are currently eight bouts confirmed and we look forward to announcing this exciting news in coming days, so watch this space.
“I do not want to scoop the fight-card announcement, but it is safe to say that hosting the first-ever UFC women’s fight in Abu Dhabi will help further grow the sport of MMA in the emirate, the UAE and across the Middle East.”
On Thursday, The National was granted an exclusive look at The Arena, a bespoke venue for UFC, expected to be completed on August 15. Two high-profile concerts will take place there in the week leading up to UFC 242, with capacity for those increased to 17,000.
“As a purpose-built indoor venue accommodating more than 13,000 spectators, The Arena will meet the international standards expected by the UFC, Abu Dhabi and fight fans,” Al Baloushi said. “It will host more than 13,000 fight fans. There are no current plans to expand the venue.”
Abu Dhabi has previously hosted the UFC in 2010 and 2014.
Updated: June 29, 2019 12:08 PM