x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UFC excitement weighs in high

The official pre-UFC 112: Invincible weigh-ins, held at Marina Mall yesterday, brought together all 22 of the mixed martial artists (MMA) in action at Yas Island tonight.

UFC fighter Renzo Gracie, centre, poses with fans outside Marina Mall yesterday.
UFC fighter Renzo Gracie, centre, poses with fans outside Marina Mall yesterday.

ABU DHABI // As sideshows go, it was pretty impressive. The official pre-UFC 112: Invincible weigh-ins, held at Marina Mall yesterday, brought together all 22 of the mixed martial artists (MMA) in action at Yas Island tonight. Having spent all week struggling through obligatory weight cutting routines, the majority of fighters were cranky, hungry and, in true fashion, ready to rumble. Staged photo shoots saw them fists up and nostrils flared, squaring-up menacingly, but the ruses lasted seconds. Clearly, not breaking eye contact was the primary objective for everyone concerned. Prolonged stare-downs, like the well-rehearsed intimidation tactics employed by Mike Tyson to psychologically beat opponents long before engaging them in the ring, were everywhere. Hundreds upon hundreds of people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities were captivated. The pulsing crowds aside, however, the weigh-in did not reach animosity levels often found in pugilist equivalents. That came as no surprise to Georges St Pierre, the UFC welterweight champion, because the hyperbolic drama is all for show. "It's all mind games," said St Pierre. "The weigh-in has nothing to do with the fight. It doesn't make a difference unless the guys let it get to their heads. The crowd play a part, they add to the scene and help get people pumped." Quizzed on the fighters' eye-to-eye battle of wits, St Pierre was ambivalent. "If it matters to the guy making the eye contact then it's good for him. It's all just a mental thing," said the Canadian. "But the mental side is 95 per cent of the game." The UFC's primary game, adeptlymaximising a well-oiled marketing machine, was equally evident yesterday. In America, weigh-ins are opportunities to interact with an adoring fan base. Stateside, the pre-fight show's razzle and dazzle is as close as most ticket-less fans get to seeing their idols up close. Abu Dhabi, however, was treated to something extra special. "We're used to big turnouts at home, but we didn't know what to expect here," said Lorenzo Fertitta, the UFC's co-owner. "This is the first weigh-in we've ever done in a mall. It's a close-section environment and the crowd were pumped. It was great." The crowd had few reasons not to be ecstatic; their every whim was catered for. With the fighters' intensity demonstrating the beginning of business, and Joe Rogan, the voice of UFC, stoking fans' excitement. Dana White, the UFC president, as always, was the drama's fulcrum. White's personal charm offensive involved having his photograph taken countless times with fans and he spent more than an hour signing autographs, never moaning once. Spectator meet-and-greets, White knows, are a vital component of the UFC's global expansion programme. That international push, aided by local entertainment firm Flash, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Government, is speeding up. Having sanctioned the 10 per cent acquisition of the UFC, the UAE capital is firmly behind its latest venture, evidenced by the presence of Khaldoon al Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority, at yesterday's fan fest. "What a turnout, it's fantastic," said Mr al Mubarak, who is also the chairman of Manchester City, the English Premier League side. When asked whether he had supplied the City shirt which local favourite Renzo Gracie sported to his weigh-in, Mr Al Mubarak simply laughed. "I didn't get it for him, he got it himself," he smiled. Gracie, an Abu Dhabi favourite, confirmed as much: "I bought it from the store upstairs." The weigh-in's carnival atmosphere was electric. Entertainment of a different sort lies in store tonight at Yas Island's Ferrari World. The blood and gore will ensure so. It should, however, be no less dramatic. emegson@thenational.ae