DCT Abu Dhabi: Partnership with UFC continues to grow stronger as UFC 280 raises the bar

Saleh Al Geziry, director general of tourism at Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, previews Saturday's packed event and offers some insight on what's next for MMA in the region

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Abu Dhabi hosts UFC 280 at Etihad Arena on Saturday night, with one of the year’s most talent-rich cards – headlined by the Charles Oliveira against Islam Makhachev for the vacant lightweight title.

Saleh Al Geziry, director general of tourism at Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, previews the fight night and UFC’s relationship with the emirate beyond UFC 280.

How excited are you to be welcoming back the UFC to Abu Dhabi?

We are very excited to be welcoming back the UFC to Abu Dhabi. Over the past decade, the UAE capital has cemented its status as a hub for high-profile international sporting events and a global capital for MMA.

With UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev marking the promotion’s return, bringing some of the world’s best fighters, it will definitely be an unmissable event. We have seen great anticipation from the public too, with tickets selling out in few hours.

UFC 280 is considered by many to be the standout card of the year. How determined were you to secure such a card, and what does it say about the relationship between DCT Abu Dhabi and the UFC?

Abu Dhabi already has a stellar reputation for attracting international stars from screen, sports and music, and has established itself as a destination for unforgettable events and experiences.

As you say, this year’s Abu Dhabi Showdown Week culminates with an exceptional fight card. UFC 280 features not one but two title bouts, and a host of other high-profile fights across various weight categories. These upcoming bouts speak volumes about the partnership between the UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi.

In the past few years, the UFC has significantly raised its presence and that of MMA within the region, and our partnership has clearly been a big part of that. It has proven to be an extremely successful venture for both parties.

Since the agreement signed between DCT Abu Dhabi and the UFC in 2019, the events staged from UFC 242 through to UFC 267 have continued to raise the bar. How will UFC 280 continue that trajectory?

We are proud to say that the partnership between DCT Abu Dhabi and the UFC continues to grow from strength to strength; a fact that can be seen regarding the fight cards, global interest, ticket sales, etc.

Motivated by the fans’ incredible support and enthusiasm, we are always keen on bringing unforgettable fight cards to the capital. We have done that once more with UFC 280 and will continue to do so going forward. This year’s fight night features two championship title-deciding fights and you can see the interest that such a card generates globally.

This is no surprise, considering the bouts we have lined up. For example, no matter what happens inside the octagon on October 22, a new lightweight champion will be crowned. Islam Makhachev is Khabib Nurmagomedov’s protege, while Charles Oliveira is on an 11-fight winning streak and No 1 in the UFC lightweight rankings. Something has got to give.

Also, even before that fight, fans will also get to see Aljamain Sterling try to defend his bantamweight title against former champ TJ Dillashaw in the co-main event.

So, as you can see, UFC 280 undoubtedly raises the bar for what a fight night should be. That trajectory you spoke of continues – although the problem of course is that in doing so, every year it gets more difficult to top our previous event.

Aljamain Sterling defends his bantamweight title against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dana White is once again teasing major plans for Abu Dhabi beyond UFC 280, saying he will announce those in the capital next month. How close are you to finalising those, and how will that impact the MMA scene in the capital and beyond?

The five-year partnership has been incredibly successful according to a number of different metrics. Naturally, we are working closely with Dana White and his extended team to conceptualise and work on further exciting plans, which we cannot wait to share in due time.

We are entering the final year of that 2019 deal and/or partnership. What are the plans going forward in relation to that, and how confident are you that an extension to the original partnership will be agreed?

The strategic partnership between the UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi has been an extremely successful venture over the past few years. The rise of MMA within the region has been unprecedented, and we can attribute that increase to the ongoing partnership with UFC to host major title fights in Abu Dhabi.

The capital has also cemented its position as a global destination for MMA, which in turn has boosted tourism numbers and the emirate’s economic status. We have undoubtedly demonstrated our significance to UFC as a global sporting entertainment hub and look forward to the remainder of this partnership. After that, we will see what the future may hold.

UFC president Dana White has been teasing major plans that are set to be announced between the promotion at DCT Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

After the hugely successful Fight Island series, there seems to have been a return to the initial agreement of one fight night per year. How likely are multiple events per year going forward, and how is the desire within DCT Abu Dhabi to perhaps lock down at least one other UFC fight night per year?

Hosting three UFC Fight Island events in the relatively concise span of seven months, regardless of the pandemic’s restrictions, has eloquently demonstrated Abu Dhabi’s capabilities to host large-scale events while adhering to the highest global health and safety standards. We are entirely focused on hosting Abu Dhabi Showdown Week.

What would constitute success for DCT Abu Dhabi come the conclusion to UFC 280?

We depend on a number of metrics to determine the success of any given event. It all starts with the feedback we receive from the fans who enjoy and attend our events and fight nights. We have a great number of spectators who fly from across the world to Abu Dhabi to watch live, as well as all the participating athletes.

It’s clear to see the city’s spirited approach to Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, along with a growing interest in combat sports. These events also have a tangible impact on the emirate’s economy, in line with the tourism sector’s goals, which is an essential criteria.

Updated: October 22, 2022, 6:24 AM