x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UFC fans can get up close and personal

Organisers of UFC 112: Invincible in Abu Dhabi are keen on providing sideline events in the build-up to the first mixed martial arts event staged in the Middle East

Demian Maia of Brazil, right, will replace the injured Vitor Belfort in the Abu Dhabi event.
Demian Maia of Brazil, right, will replace the injured Vitor Belfort in the Abu Dhabi event.

ABU DHABI // Organisers of UFC 112: Invincible, the country's first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event, have scheduled a series of sideline activities, including free-to-the-public pre-fight weigh-ins on the Corniche, to ensure the world's premier mixed martial arts franchise causes a stir on its Middle East debut.

With the majority of the event's fighters committed to three-week training camps in the Emirates before the April 10 fight night, John Lickrish, the managing director of Flash Entertainment - which acquired a 10 per cent stake in the UFC's parent company Zuffa LLC in January - said that providing opportunities for the public to mix and mingle with the UFC fighters had been prioritised. "We're going to hold the weigh-ins on the beach and along the Corniche, so everyone can come down and see the fighters, meet them and see how big they are," said Lickrish. "People talk about what the fighters are like in the ring, but when you meet them face-to-face they are very polite, friendly, demure and humble. It will be good for fans, who will have only seen these guys on TV, to get close and see the human component. They may be fighters but they are also very polite and personable; it is such a juxtaposition of person and athlete."

With an 11,800-strong outdoor arena under construction at Ferrari World on Yas Island, Lickrish said the facility had been designed as a "box" format, with four grandstands. A significant floor-level area will house the most expensive octagon-side seats. "All the seats and all the blocks are close to the cage, but no one is familiar with the set-up so we're having to inform people on where they'll be sat," said Lickrish.

"I'd like to have sold out in the first hour [as Sydney's recent UFC110 event did], but that's not a reality in the UAE - it never happens. Sales are right on target: we sold strongly at the beginning, we're chugging along and I know we'll be at capacity before the event." The demand for expensive cage-side seats, he added, had forced a re-think of the original floor-plan. "Everyone wants to be on the ground, right next to the fight. That's where you get the most adrenaline and where you can really feel it," said Lickrish. "Those original tickets went really quickly, so we've expanded that section. We knew we'd get requests we couldn't refuse and so we left buffers aside in anticipation. We're running out of tickets in the best areas and will be sold out shortly."

With end-of-winter rainfall a possibility, Lickrish said plans have been devised to safeguard the event should there be further showers next month. "The show will go on, we'll protect and cover the Octagon, but like any outdoor show the fans will be open to the elements," he said. Having lost one of its main event fighters - Vitor Belfort's shoulder injury has forced him out of a showdown with middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who will now fight fellow Brazilian Demian Maia - Lickrish maintained that the bill, which features nine bouts in total, remains one of the UFC's strongest ever. "When you do live events you expect nothing to go to plan, with the amount of physical punishment these fighters go through, things happen," he added.

"But I'm not disappointed. Maia is a grappler - the complete opposite to Silva - and he'll pose a new, different challenge. The bill is fantastic." emegson@thenational.ae