UFC head Dana White says the bond forged between the world's leading MMA franchise and Abu Dhabi will mean the capital could host more mega fights in the future and that he is "really excited" to see the newly erected stadium on Yas Island that will host UFC 242 this Saturday.
The sport returns to Abu Dhabi for the first time in five years this weekend, where unbeaten lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov headlines a stacked event with his unification bout against Dustin Poirier.
"We have a really close connection with Abu Dhabi because we’ve already been there a few times, and the fights we’ve done there before," White said. "The people of the UAE have been so good to the UFC. We are going to continue to come back and bring big fights to the Middle East."
It is the third time the UFC has been staged in Abu Dhabi, following events in 2010 and 2014. In April, the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi announced it had signed a five-year deal with the UFC.
When asked about The Arena – a purpose-built venue on Yas Island – holding upwards of 13,000 spectators, White told The National that Abu Dhabi had again exceeded his expectations.
"They do this every time we go there. When you do business with Abu Dhabi, everything is first class, everything is done to the absolute best it could possibly be done," he said.
"The last time they built the arena for us, we loved the facilities and the green rooms were amazing. This one is actually even better than the last, which I can’t even believe, and I am really excited to see it."
All eyes will be on Nurmagomedov on Saturday when the undefeated Russian, 30, makes his return from a nine-month suspension following last October’s controversial fallout from his match-up with Conor McGregor.
His unification bout with interim titleholder Poirier was almost certainly the reason for tickets for the event selling out in days, and White said he for one can't wait to see Nurmagomedov back in the octagon.
"Khabib is undefeated, one of the best fighters in the world and one of the best ever. Anytime I get to see one of the best and greatest of all-time fight, I get excited."
The Arena on Yas Island
History will also be made on the night, with Abu Dhabi hosting its first all-female bouts when Canadian Sarah Moras squares off against Georgian Liana Jojua and top-ranked Scottish flyweight Joanne Calderwood faces seventh-ranked American Andrea Lee.
"It’s groundbreaking for us to have females fight in the Middle East and I like breaking records and breaking ground. Anytime I can do this, it’s fun," White said.
White also believes that it will not be too long until athletes from the UAE and across the Middle East start appearing on UFC fight cards and predicted a future UFC champion from the region would emerge "within the next six to seven years".
"Since we have done events in Abu Dhabi, and it happens everywhere we go, it kick-starts the market, gyms pop up and people are training. Talent is coming out of the area," he said.
"I won’t be surprised – I said this about England, I said this about Australia, Canada and every country we have gone to – there will be a champion from the Middle East probably within the next six to seven years."
There is plenty on offer for fans leading up to fight night. The Abu Dhabi Showdown Week programme includes a two-night concert series featuring American rock legends the Red Hot Chili Peppers and reggaeton superstar J Balvin, as well as other major international musicians and DJs playing at pool, beach and after-parties.
“I am looking forward to the Red Hot Chili Peppers on Wednesday and I am looking forward to the fight on Saturday,” said White. "On top of that, Abu Dhabi is a very cool city and I have a lot of things lined up to do during the week."
Eight UFC guest fighters will also conduct numerous events for fans at 10 Abu Dhabi malls, while there will be accompanying retail and food and beverage promotions around the city.