UFC 242: DCT-Abu Dhabi aims to set new standards as global hub for mega events

Sold out event at the purpose-built The Arena on Yas Island is attracting fans and visitors from around the world

More than 50 per cent of fight fans attending this weekend’s UFC 242 will travel to the UAE from outside the country, say organisers.

The world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion returns to Abu Dhabi for the first time in five years on Saturday night, when undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov headlines the fight card in his title unification bout against Dustin Poirier. It will take place at The Arena on Yas Island, a purpose-built venue that holds upwards of 13,000 spectators.

UFC 242, which comes after previous UFC fight nights in the capital in 2010 and 2014, marks the first event of the five-year partnership signed between the UFC and the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT – Abu Dhabi), which was announced in April.

Tickets for UFC 242, which concludes the inaugural Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, are sold out, with the initial batch released in June selling within the first four days – before the fight card was confirmed.

“We were pleasantly surprised, although we have a huge demographic of people in this region who are fans of UFC and very familiar with the talent competing,” Fatima Saeed Al Baloushi, the DCT’s Acting Events Calendar Planning and Development manager, Abu Dhabi Events Bureau, told The National. “We sold a really good number of tickets even prior to announcing the fight card so that was really exciting for us.

“And the minute we confirmed the main card - Khabib and Dustin - there was a huge spike also following that. So for us it was great. The latest figures we have show 55 per cent of the ticket-holders are non-UAE residents, those coming into the UAE for the event. It's very exciting.”

Al Baloushi said that hotels on Yas Island are at 100 per cent occupancy this weekend, with visitors to the Emirates coming from as far away as the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Given Nurmagomedov, a Dagestan native, returns to the Octagon for the first time since last October’s high-prolife fight against Conor McGregor, a large number of attendees are travelling from Russia to see him attempt to extend his professional record to 28-0.

Al Baloushi said feedback from the UFC throughout the build-up to the event has been positive, with everyone looking forward to seeing The Arena fully operational come Saturday. Approximately 5,000 are expected to attend the pre-event weigh-in there on Friday.

“I remember this plot of land being just flat sand, so the change has been massive,” she said. “Today it’s an international-standard arena, fully equipped with the best technologies that can help support the consumer journey and the fans’ experience onsite. It’s a great arena. We’re very proud of it”.

Asked what would constitute success for DCT-Abu Dhabi this weekend, Al Baloushi said: “Success for us is the consumers, that the guests coming from all over the world and from the UAE have that big smile on their faces, that they have a top-standard, high-level event experience.

“That’s where we want to be as Abu Dhabi. By engaging with all these major organisations and hosting these mega events in the destination, we’re pushing to make Abu Dhabi a hub to attract global media and the international audience. It’s saying we are up to standards; we create standards for this event.

"So success for us is that guests coming in are excited, they have a comfortable journey and experience and they truly enjoy the event. And hopefully may the best man win.”

Since UFC 242 represents the first in a five-year agreement with the promotion, Al Baloushi agreed that there is a pressure to kick-starting the partnership in positive fashion.

“Definitely,” she said. “And we will continue to hit that high note for the next five years. That’s the goal.”

Updated: September 5, 2019 06:12 PM

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