Matchroom Boxing chairman Eddie Hearn has stated his ambitions to position Abu Dhabi as a globally recognised boxing destination alongside the likes of Las Vegas, New York and London.
The first step towards achieving those goals takes place on Saturday with the first Champion Series event at Etihad Arena, where Russia's WBA light-heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol takes on the unbeaten Mexican, and No 1 contender, Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez.
The stacked card also includes two more world title fights as Jessica McCaskill and Chantelle Cameron compete in an undisputed super-lightweight clash, while the IBF super-featherweight title is on the line between Shavkat Rakhimov and Zelfa Barrett.
Additionally, Olympic champion Galal Yafai and his older brother, the former super-flyweight world champion, Kal Yafai compete in Abu Dhabi, as does Campbell Hatton – the son of former two-weight world champion Ricky Hatton.
Hearn, who has brought major boxing events to the region in the past – most notably the two heavyweight world title fights involving Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia – believes Saturday's event will be the start for Abu Dhabi's own journey to establishing itself as a major boxing location.
“People have to get used to going to the region,” Hearn said. “You’re going to see participation grow at grassroots level, and you’re going to see us put plans in place for another big event early in 2023. We’re planning more fights in the future in Abu Dhabi and you’ll see the growth from there.
“You have to educate the fans as they’re not used to seeing boxing events come to Abu Dhabi,” Hearn added. “So firstly, you have to get people used to the fact that this is now a boxing destination. You’ve got Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden in New York, the O2 in London: these are all venues that, internationally, fight fans will flock to when there’s a major event and that’s what we want for Abu Dhabi.
“I’m a big believer in the emirate and part of our job is to showcase it, not just as an incredible destination for live sporting events, but as a holiday destination – and for business too. The hotels, the hospitality, the beaches, the theme parks, all these things. That’s why we must bring these people to the region to experience an incredible night of boxing, but also experience an incredible destination.”
Launch party for Bivol v Ramirez in Abu Dhabi
Saturday's event is the first in a strategic partnership between Matchroom Boxing and DCT Abu Dhabi, and Hearn said he was drawn to the capital after watching the partnership between the UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi flourish.
The UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi have been engaged in a five-year partnership that has brought at least one title fight to the capital every year, most recently UFC 280 where Islam Makhachev was crowned the new lightweight champion in the main event.
UFC president Dana White has been glowing in his praise of Abu Dhabi as the promotion and DCT Abu Dhabi finalise a new long-term alliance, which, White told The National, promises to be a “total game-changer for all of combat sports".
“That’s what you want to hear," Hearn said. "As a business you want to make sure you have those kinds of partners; the kind of partners you can build something special with and create a legacy in the region. That’s really what we’re all about. It’s going to take time, but our goal is to develop Abu Dhabi as a major global destination for boxing.
“Fight fans don’t realise how good the Etihad Arena is and how great that area is down there, where you can have the weigh-in outside right by the water. You’ve also got plenty of restaurants on the side and then can look over and see the Formula One circuit in the distance. It’s an incredible place and they’re going to see, on November 5, an incredible fight night and incredible energy.”