UFC to return to Abu Dhabi after five years. Could Khabib Nurmagomedov headline?

Unification fight between Russian UFC Lightweight champion and American Dustin Poirier mooted for September 7 show

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 26:  poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at BB&T Center on April 26, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by \2026328\/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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The UFC will return to the UAE later this year after Abu Dhabi announced a five-year partnership with the world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion company.

It was confirmed on Monday that the capital will play host to UFC 242 on September 7, marking the promotion's first event in the emirate since 2014.

The fight card, which has yet to be confirmed but promises at least one championship bout, will air live on global broadcasters and on pay-per-view in select markets.

The partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) will bring the UFC to the capital for the next five years. Abu Dhabi has twice previously hosted the promotion, with the first event in 2010.

“We are making a long-term commitment to Abu Dhabi because we have had great success in that market,” UFC president Dana White said. “The demand from our fans to bring UFC back to Abu Dhabi has been overwhelming, and over the next five years, DCT Abu Dhabi will help us deliver some spectacular UFC championship fights to the UAE.

"I’m very excited about this partnership and what it will mean for the growth of this sport and for UFC in the region.”

Although more details regarding UFC 242 will be announced at a later date, the event will conclude a week-long series of activities, including open workouts, weigh-ins and press conferences.

A lightweight title unification bout between Russian star Khabib Nurmagomedov and American Dustin Poirier has also been mooted.

“Abu Dhabi is now firmly established as a unique tourism destination which offers a diverse mix of activities and initiatives that cater to all kinds of audience and visitors,” Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman, DCT Abu Dhabi said.

“The emirate also has a strong affiliation with world-class sporting events, such as the Fifa Club World Cup, the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Red Bull Air Race, and now this deal to bring UFC here allows us to once again show our ability to stage major events that thrill visitors and residents alike.

“UFC will become a key component of Abu Dhabi’s thriving events calendar for the next five years, which is already packed full of not only great sporting events, but also cultural, arts and entertainment offerings as well.

“This spectacular mixed martial arts event, which has a huge following around the world, will bring heightened impetus to visitation in the third quarter for the emirate and will no doubt boost incoming tourist numbers as fight fans across the world gather in Abu Dhabi.”

The possibility of Nurmagomedov’s participation in particular is sure to garner significant interest. The lightweight champion, one of the most popular fighters in the sport, has not competed since his highly controversial victory against Ireland’s Conor McGregor last October, when a post-fight brawl resulted in a nine-month ban.

Nurmagomedov, 30, remains unbeaten, with a perfect record of 27 wins from 27 professional fights, a run that represents the longest undefeated streak in MMA. A devout Muslim, he is no stranger to the UAE having visited the country numerous times, including shortly after the clash with McGregor, when he made an appearance at Arabian Gulf League club Al Wahda's Al Nahyan Stadium.

Asked earlier this month if the rumours of a UAE fight were true, Nurmagomedov said: "Yes, we are working on it. UFC told me they are working on this. I just came back from Dubai. And very soon news is coming. Very soon."

Poirier, meanwhile, defeated Max Holloway on April 13 in Atlanta to win the interim championship and move into pole position to face Nurmagomedov.

Abu Dhabi first staged the UFC in 2010 at Yas Island – the promotion’s first outdoor event - when Frankie Edgar secured a contentious victory against BJ Penn and Anderson Silva notched a decision win against Demian Maia.

The UFC returned to Yas Island four years later, this time at du Arena, and was headlined by Roy Nelson knocking out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria.

Since its inception in 1993, the UFC has produced more than 460 events in 24 countries and reportedly boasts 278 million fans worldwide.