The UFC and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have extended their existing partnership that guarantees one numbered event to be held in the capital each year, with additional Fight Nights to take place “across the Mena region” as part of the deal.
Confirmation of an agreement through until 2028 was announced on Thursday immediately following the official press conference for UFC 294, which will be staged at Etihad Arena on Saturday night. It represents the 18th event held in Abu Dhabi since the world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion’s debut in the emirate in 2010.
In a press release accompanying Thursday’s news, UFC chief executive Dana White said: “Abu Dhabi is one of my favourite places in the world; the people, the restaurants, the hotels, it’s incredible.
“I have been so excited to be able to put on some of the biggest fights in the history of UFC in Abu Dhabi and it’s only going to get even bigger from here with additional Fight Nights coming to the region next year. I love it here.”
While a Fight Night in Saudi Arabia was earlier this month confirmed for March – it marks the UFC’s first stop in the kingdom – no other events in the region have been detailed. However, during the UFC 294 press conference, White said the promotion was in talks with Egypt and Qatar, among other Mena destinations, regarding hosting Fight Nights.
UFC and Abu Dhabi have enjoyed a long-standing and successful relationship. In 2019, they entered into a formal partnership that committed to putting on one pay-per-view event per year through until 2023.
In 2020, the relationship strengthened through the Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi, a concept that allowed the UFC to stage events during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fight Island featured some of the sport’s most prominent names, including former lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, former two-division belt-holder Conor McGregor and former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
Through the original deal, nine title fights have taken place in Abu Dhabi, with this weekend’s UFC 294 headlined by lightweight champion Islam Makhachev’s title defence in his rematch against featherweight No 1 Alexander Volkanovski. UFC 294 is part of Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, a week-long series of activations and events in the city.
In Thursday’s release, Saood Abdulaziz Al Hosani, undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Bringing UFC to Abu Dhabi each year has proved hugely popular, with MMA fans coming to the emirate from all over the world to watch the biggest and best fights in the sport.
“Over a 15-year relationship, the UFC has extended its global reach and Abu Dhabi has established itself as a world capital for combat sports. Renewing our partnership with UFC allows us to continue to stage major events that thrill visitors and residents.
“We are excited to extend the relationship and innovate together to grow this sport in the UAE and wider region.”
On Saturday, Mohammed Yahya will make history as the first Emirati to compete in the UFC, when the Dubai-based lightweight faces American Trevor Peek. White has long said he envisioned, through the relationship with Abu Dhabi, that the company would one day be home to fighters from the UAE.
At Thursday’s press conference, the UFC chief executive added: “Obviously we’ve been here in the region for a long time in Abu Dhabi and you’ve seen the sport explode here, [and] get bigger. People training, athletes actually fighting in the UFC now that are from here.”
After stating that negotiations have taken place with the likes of Egypt and Qatar, White was asked if Abu Dhabi would remain the promotion’s home in the region.
“Always be home,’ he said. “I’m never leaving Abu Dhabi.”
Last year, White told The National that the UFC planned to put on fights in the emirate for “the rest of my life”, with multiple events per year “absolutely, positively going to happen” in future.
“You know how I feel about Abu Dhabi, I love this place,” he said. “Every time we come here we like to deliver. The powers that be in this country have always been very good to us.
“This is like our marquee event of the year. We always want to bring the biggest and the brightest here to Abu Dhabi.”