Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

UAE Warriors back UFC's Abu Dhabi return to help grow MMA in the country

Organisers believe American company's event in September is good news for the sport

Oli Thompson, second left, and Tarek Suleiman, second right, are among the fights on the card at the UAE Warriors MMA event on Friday in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
Oli Thompson, second left, and Tarek Suleiman, second right, are among the fights on the card at the UAE Warriors MMA event on Friday in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

The return of UFC in September to the UAE can be the catalyst to grow competitive Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) action in the country.

That is the belief of the people behind the newly branded UAE Warriors, who are holding their latest event on Friday at the Mubadala Arena at Zayed Sports City.

The Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) announced signing a five-year partnership with UFC, the world’s leading MMA company, on Monday.

The agreement guarantees championship fights will take place in the capital with the first fight card scheduled for September 7. The UFC has twice previously hosted events in 2010 and 2014.

There is no confirmation on the final card for the event but a lightweight title unification bout between Russian star Khabib Nurmagomedov and American Dustin Poirier has been mooted to be the main event in September.

The news of UFC's event comes as UAE Warriors, who were previously known as Abu Dhabi Warriors, are holding their event.

Fouad Darwish, general manager of Palms Sports, who are behind UAE Warriors, believes UFC's involvement in the country can only be a good thing for the sport.

“The UFC’s five-year plan is a blessing to us and it’s awesome to us,” Darwish at the launch ceremony of the UAE Warriors fight card on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.

“We need more from the UFC. We learn from them. We believe the fact the UFC is here it’s going to propel our platform. It’s going to give us access to more events.

“We can become a launchpad for many of our fighters to the UFC. Of course, as the organiser of the UAE Warriors we want to have our own status. We are a very generous organisation in a very generous country.”

The UAE Warriors fight card has a total value of US$100,000 (Dh370,000). It consists of 11 bouts, including three title fights in three different weight divisions; featherweight, welterweight and light heavyweight.

Oli Thompson fights for the light heavyweight title against Syrian opponent Tarek Suleiman and the Briton is determined to walk away a champion on Friday.

“This is not new for me but I still want to get the job done,” said the fighter who has a 19-10 career record.

“I have trained harder to come here and add value to the fight. My opponent has pretty good jiu-jitsu credentials but I have always faced world champions and he will have to bring his A-game, otherwise I will floor him.”

Suleiman believes neither man has a direct advantage and said: "The fight is up for grabs."

Last week, the Filipino community celebrated Annie Ramirez’s first gold in the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship after four years of trying.

On Friday, they will get behind Roland Dy when he takes on Kazakh Yerzhan Yestanov for the featherweight title belt.

Dy is hoping to use the inspiration of his previous successful appearance in the UAE, which came at an Abu Dhabi Warriors event, to help him be victorious.

“I was here in January and won by a knockout and want to replicate that result in front of my fans,” he said.

The other title fight on the card sees Lebanese fighter Ahmad Labban up against Tunisian Amin Ayoub.

Action on Friday is due to get under way at 6pm.

Updated: May 1, 2019 05:44 PM

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