Former Bellator bantamweight Shawn Bunch made a perfect start on his promotion debut by clinching a split decision over Rany Saadeh in the UAE Warriors-22.
The American started well with a clear first round lead but the German-based Palestinian fighter clawed back by taking the next before going down narrowly in the main contest of the 14-fight card at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
“I thought I had the first and third rounds, but in the second he kind of took off. I knew I had a win though,” Bunch said after stretching his career record to 10-5 win-loss.
“I knew he was tough. He’s been there for a while and had a good record (12-3), so I knew it was going to be tough but tonight I needed to hang on there after a long lay-off.”
Bunch, 38, was returning to the cage after more than 18 months following two defeats in Bellator while Saadeh, 28, won a unanimous decision in his UAE Warriors debut in March.
His trainer Javier Mendes said it was a “great performance” from Bunch to make a winning debut in the promotion.
“I was speaking to him all the time to use his wrestling skills because in the second round his opponent was so good," he said.
“He definitely won the second round in my opinion. I told Shawn if he wants this fight to use his queen, which is his wrestling. He then went out and did exactly what he was supposed to do.
“It was a very close fight. I saw it as a win for us but I wouldn’t have been surprised it went down his opponent’s way.”
Mendes, a renowned mixed martial art coach and founder of the MMA Gym and American Kickboxing Academy, was all praise for the promotion.
“The UAE Warriors is the best promotion in the Middle East, and with the jiu-jitsu programme Palms Sports is doing all over the UAE I think there will be a lot of rising stars,” he added.
“I see the young talent and the hunger in them. I can see a bright future for the Arab fighters to use the UAE Warriors platform to reach UFC level. I really see it with the vision they have here.”
Corinne Laframboise put herself forward as a female UAE Warriors title candidate by recording her third win in four appearances in the promotion.
The Canadian stopped Elin Oberg in the first round with a barrage of punches to take her career record to 6-4.
Taskin Zabitov (KAZ) beat Magomed Gadzhimuradov (RUS)
Jimmy Vienot (FRA) beat Daniel Donchenko (UKR)
Islam Magomedov (RUS) beat Shamil Aminov (UZB)
(Round 1 TKO punches)
Halil Amir (TUR) beat Gregorio Davide La Torre (ITA)
(Round 1 TKO punches)
Vitor Petrino (BRA) beat Gadzhimurad Antigulov (RUS)
(Round 2 TKO punches)
Attila Korkmaz (TUR) beat Bakhtiyar Toychubaev (KYG)
Ramazan Kuramagomedov (RUS) beat Matias Juarez (ARG)
(Round 2 rear-naked choke)
Rey Nacionales (PHI) beat Abrorbek Madaminbekov (UZB)
(Round 1 rear-naked choke)
Ali Kabdulla (KAZ) v Jarno Errens (NED)
Andre Fialho (POR) beat Lincoln Puig (BRA)
(Round-1 TKO punches)
Corinne Laframboise (CAN) beat Elin Oberg (SWE)
(Round 1 TKO ground punches)
Mikhail Mokhnatkin (RUS) beat Ricardo Prasel
Rany Saadeh (PAL) v Shawn Bunch (USA)