UFC athlete Santiago Ponzinibbio has paid tribute to compatriot Diego Maradona before Saturday’s Fight Island opener in Abu Dhabi.
The Argentine, who takes on China’s Li Jingliang at UFC Fight Night at the new Etihad Arena, arrived at the pre-event face-off on Friday with a poster of Maradona holding aloft the World Cup in 1986. He unfurled it, with the help of Li, to show “Forever” emblazoned across the image.
Widely regarded one of the best footballers in history, Maradona died in November. He was aged 60.
“He is one of the greatest athletes of all time,” Ponzinibbio said. “He didn’t ever sell himself – he started from nothing and dominated world football.
“He’s an inspiration because he showed nothing is impossible. He was a dreamer, like me. He started from nothing, just like me.”
UFC Fight Night, the first of three events at this Fight Island Triple Header, is headlined by Max Holloway's featherweight clash with Calvin Kattar. Marking the Etihad Arena's official opening, it will welcome a limited amount of spectators – the first time the UFC has hosted a live show with fans in attendance since March.
Another UFC Fight Night follows on Wednesday, with the series concluding on January 24 with a much-anticipated UFC 257 headlined by Conor McGregor's comeback against Dustin Poirier.