x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UFC's next target in Middle East: a reality show

A Middle East edition of the hit series The Ultimate Fighter will be up and running by the summer.

Renzo Gracie, right, preparing for tomorrow night's fight in Abu Dhabi.
Renzo Gracie, right, preparing for tomorrow night's fight in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // A Middle East edition of the hit reality television series The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) will be up and running by the summer, Dana White, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president, said yesterday. The show, which White credits for saving the once-ailing fight league, is likely to be filmed in the capital and will be a standalone series aimed at aiding the UFC's plans for global expansion.

Speaking ahead of the first UFC event in the region, tomorrow night, White said getting the show under way is a priority. "Here will be the first place outside of the United States [to host the show]," he said. "We will get guys from across the region, and we will probably get this up and running within the next two to three months." The series follows a group of selected professional fighters, who are yet to make a name for themselves, living together and competing against each other for the title of The Ultimate Fighter and a six-figure contract.

The show has launched the careers of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters such as Joe "Daddy" Stevenson, Forrest Griffin and Kendall Grove, who fights in Abu Dhabi tomorrow night against Mark Munoz. While there is a strong history of jiu-jitsu in the Emirates, with Abu Dhabi Combat Club's Submission Wrestling Tournament having attracted fighters such as five-times world jiu-jitsu champion Demian Maia, one of this weekend's main contenders, MMA has made very little progress.

But White predicted that will change with the launch of the show, which he said would lead to the establishment of more MMA gyms and more people taking up the sport. He believes quality fighters can and will be found in this region during the next few months. "You would be surprised by the quality," he said. "Since the MMA boom five years ago there is not a place in the world we could not get a fighter from. This place is no different."

After tomorrow night, White's attention will turn to the fight league's next big event in the region - a live show for troops stationed in Afghanistan, likely to happen within the next two to three months. And then, he said, it will be back to Abu Dhabi to "kick off this reality show", beginning with open tryouts, overseen by UFC officials. The best will make it on to the show. "As you have seen in the United States and the UK, once that reality show hits it's going to take off," he said.

The first episode and re-run of TUF 11, currently airing in the US and here, attracted 3.5 million viewers. "If you are a fight fan you are going to love this show," said White. A TUF training centre is likely to be set up for the show, while coaches and technical staff will be flown in from the US. White's long-term dream is to have a show where fighters from all over the world come together for an international competition. "Imagine some guys from the Middle East with some Americans, some Brits and some Canadians," he said.