Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Success of UFC 242 will benefit Abu Dhabi and Arab fighters across the region

UFC 242 couldn’t have gone any better when it comes to the quality of the fights, the attendance and the media’s professionalism across the board, our columnist says

One day removed from the UFC’s return to Abu Dhabi, and there is a mix of excitement, anticipation, and fatigue on my part.

UFC 242 couldn’t have gone any better when it comes to the quality of the fights, the attendance and the media’s professionalism across the board in covering an event of this magnitude for the weeks building up. The media exposure, drumming up interest and raising expectations ahead of a major moment in UAE sport, was unprecedented for a UFC show in Abu Dhabi, whether it was television, radio, print or digital platforms. Having covered the UFC’s first foray into the Middle East in Abu Dhabi in 2010, I have never seen the level of attention given to the promotion and the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) like I did this time around.

The main event between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier, for the unification of the UFC’s lightweight championship, lived up to expectations. I cannot remember the last time I saw a crowd this big for a sporting event in the UAE, especially given the fight was contested after midnight, with most in attendance having to go to work the next day.

That level of commitment shows the passion fans have for this sport, whether from the UAE or people travelling from elsewhere to witness history in the making. Once that cage door closed, the drama in the fight rewarded every single person in the arena or those who stayed up late to watch on TV. Without a doubt, it was one of Nurmagomedov’s finest performances, against the toughest opponent he has faced. I have never seen him in such a dire situation as I did when Poirier had him locked in that guillotine choke in the third round.

Looking beyond UFC 242, I get the sense that the UFC are genuine this time around with their stated goals towards enhancing its presence in the region long-term; not only by organising events, but also through developing the fighters here and possibly recruiting more prospects from the region to fight on their events elsewhere.

Sure, there are many Arab fighters that entered the octagon before, but most are based in Europe or North America. This event was significant for many fighters, not least Ottman Azaitar an Arab fighter, who for the past two or three years has been based in the region, fought in the region and built his name in the region. The way he performed inside the octagon couldn’t have gone any better: that highlight-reel knockout of Teemu Packalen, when the Finnish fighter thudded to the canvas in the first round, was a testament to what fighters in the Middle East and North Africa can do when given the chance to perform on the biggest stage.

Ottman gives hope to other fighters in the region to keep competing and keep winning, because if he made it to the UFC, anyone from here can.

I also had the opportunity to speak to UFC president Dana White during his time here and, as he confirmed to reporters later, there would be specific shows geared towards the region next year, specifically his Looking for a Fight show. Intriguingly, he promises the show will conclude with an actual fight at the top of Louvre Abu Dhabi.

White added that there would be the strong possibility that other shows, such as The Ultimate Fighter and the Dana White Contender Series, would happen within this five-year relationship with Abu Dhabi.

All the pieces are in place for next year to be even better. Rumours are Yas Arena will be ready by then and will accommodate an extra 5,000 seats more than The Arena, making it the home of the UFC for the next four years.

The hope is that, just like jiu-jitsu garnered a place in the hearts and minds of people in the UAE, we can see MMA take its place side-by-side with the rest of the martial arts in the country. Thus, proving its moniker as a sport that tests every martial artist to have an open mind and cross-train.

Mohammed Al Hosani is a commentator for UFC Arabia

Updated: September 8, 2019 05:11 PM

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