x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Stage is set for Ricco Rodriguez

Ricco Rodriguez back in the UAE to compete in the Dubai Fighting Championship 14 years after debut.

Ricco Rodriguez has returned to the UAE. Doug Benc / Getty Images
Ricco Rodriguez has returned to the UAE. Doug Benc / Getty Images

DUBAI // Fourteen years after sealing a surprise triumph at Abu Dhabi Combat Club's inaugural Submission Wrestling World Championship, Ricco Rodriguez returns to the Emirates to headline the first Dubai Fighting Championship.

DFC1 will take place at the Habtoor Grand Hotel tomorrow with nine professional Mixed Martial Arts bouts scheduled, climaxing with the heavyweight contest between Rodriguez, an American former Ultimate Fighting Champion, and the Englishman Stavros "Crazy Bear" Economou.

"For anybody who has never experienced MMA, I'd advise them to come watch two big heavyweights that move like cats compete in what is the fastest growing sport in the world. It's going to be huge," Rodriguez said.

The California-native first visited Abu Dhabi in 1998 when he took gold in the 99kg-and-above category at the ADCC event, hosted by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed. He returned in subsequent years, winning bronze and silver medals in the UAE capital and acknowledges he has the Emirates to thank for providing the catalyst that spurred a long and successful career in MMA.

"Abu Dhabi is where my career started," he said. "It is where I achieved most of my success in submission wrestling before it took off into MMA, so now that I'm fighting in Dubai it feels like it is coming round full circle."

Rodriguez made his UFC debut in 2001, before going on to become the first person of Mexican descent to win the heavyweight title the following year. The 34 year old's MMA record reads 48 wins from 65 fights.

"My goal in life is to finish my career with 50 wins and help other fighters in their careers," he said. "The problem with the UFC is once you end up leaving, you have nowhere else to go, so you need these kind of events to give people a leg up."

Dubai-based Malik Omarov will now fight Stuart Davies after his original opponent Luca Caracciolo was forced to withdraw. Davies is heavier and more experienced, but Omarov is confident.

"After training so hard for two months I am just desperate to fight," he said. "I really don't care who my opponent is."

The undercard also includes the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experts Fabricio Nascimento, Michael Maia and Nilson Lopes. The weigh-in takes place tonight at 7pm at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi; doors open for tomorrow's fight night at 6.30pm.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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