Next week’s UAE Warriors 15, organised in partnership with Khabib Nurmagomedov, will be open to fans who have taken the Covid-19 vaccine.
The event, the organisation’s first of 2021, takes place on January 15 at the Jiu-jitsu Arena in Abu Dhabi. A joint venture with Nurmagomedov’s Eagle Fighting Championship, it commemorates the UFC lightweight champion’s father and longtime coach, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, who died in July.
It is believed UAE Warriors 15 will be the first major sporting event in the capital to welcome spectators since the pandemic began. Palms Sports, who produce UAE Warriors, say they are working closely with the National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority (NCEMA) to ensure the safe staging of the event.
“That’s the beauty of this,” said Fouad Darwish, general manager of Palms Sports. “It’s going to be a very special event. As always, UAE Warriors and Palms Sports like to be pioneers in everything that we do.
“It’s going to be the very first association with another entity, where we’re working with the Eagle Fighting Championship, while this is a very important event because it’s in commemoration of Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov. We’re hosting it in his honour.”
UAE Warriors 15 is expected to comprise 15 bouts, including Bruno Machado's lightweight title defence against former UFC combatant Mickael Lebout, with Nurmagomedov providing as many as nine fighters from his stable. The Dagestan native, who retired from the UFC in October following his victory against Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi, acquired Russian MMA organisation Gorilla Fighting Championship last month and renamed it Eagle Fighting Championship (EFC).
Nurmagomedov has been a long-time supporter of UAE Warriors and has attended numerous events in the past as guest of honour, including the two most recent, in September and November.
“First and foremost, Khabib is a champion of many here,” Darwish said. “He has captured the hearts of many fighters - amateurs and professionals - and many supporters. And Khabib considers Abu Dhabi his second home.
“Khabib’s father was a dear friend to many here as well. He did so much for his kids, his country and many others, and for the sport of MMA so we are privileged to venerate such a world-class, kind man. My chairman, Abdulmunam Al Hashemi, goes way back with the family, and our leaders here all recognise Khabib’s accomplishments.
“So with our relationship, with the unwavering support we have seen from Khabib, it’s the least we can do to reciprocate some of the good he has given us. His father was a father to us all.”
Khabib watches UAE Warriors in Dubai
Having relaunched in January 2019 under Palms Sports, UAE Warriors enjoyed another successful year in 2020, despite the pandemic. The promotion held five events, and kicks off this year’s schedule with two shows within a week: UAE Warriors Arabia, which showcases only Arab fighters, follows on January 22.
On Nurmagomedov's decision to be work alongside his organisation, Darwish said: “It’s more recognition. Khabib just bought EFC, so if he were not certain that Warriors is the highest of standards he wouldn’t be coordinating with us. If he were not sure of our ability to bring the best, he wouldn’t be joining hands with us.
“Khabib’s family, he’s a brother. We love him, we learn from him. We grow together. I don’t believe the fact Khabib’s team is with us is elevating our standards; our standards are already there, otherwise they would not come join us. We have already raised the bar.
“For a new entity into the MMA world, we’ve done amazing. Five of our fighters in the past year have gone to the UFC, and each one won on their debut. Two had $50,000 fight bonuses. We are realising what we set out to do last year: to be the launch pad of talent. And this is only the beginning.”
Darwish said he embraced the fact UAE Warriors 15 falls on the eve of the UFC’s third Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi, which features three events from January 16 to January 24. He said he would "be honoured" to welcome UFC president Dana White to his event on January 15.
Nurmagomedov’s coach, Javier Mendez, will be present, making it the fourth of the promotion's shows he will have seen live.
“The UAE Warriors events rank as high as they can rank as far as production and how they organise, how they run their shows,” Mendez said. “They’re just as good as the best. As far as the production and the quality of the fights and the match-ups, the coordination of what they do is top-notch.
“They have a great organisation; Fouad is an incredible promoter and Abdulmunam Al Hashemi is an incredible boss who allows him the leeway to do what he does.
"That Khabib has come on board speaks to a huge amount of respect for Fouad and what they do at Palms Sports. It speaks volumes.”
On Nurmagomedov’s move into promotion, Mendez said: “It’s everything for Khabib to fulfill his father’s legacy. And the best way to do that is to have his memory live on through these types of ventures. It brings me great joy to see he’s doing this.
“He’s driven to make a success of this. The drive to make it successful is very high, and it’s because of his father’s name.”