Abu Dhabi-UFC Partnership Is ‘A Driving Force for Arab Mixed Martial Artists

 ’, Say UFC Fighters

Abu Dhabi, UAE – October 21, 2020: Abu Dhabi is inspiring a new generation of Arab mixed martial artists through its Return to Fight Island mega-event, giving fighters from across the region a chance to showcase their talent in the famous UFC® Octagon.

Interest in MMA across the Arab world has soared in recent years, helped by a multi-year partnership deal between the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) and UFC®, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation. That partnership has resulted in the world-first, hugely successful inaugural UFC® Fight Island in July and now Return to Fight Island, the mega, five-event series currently taking place on Yas Island.

UFC® FIGHT NIGHT:  MORAES VS SANDHAGEN, on October 18, featured two bouts involving Arab fighters, with Morocco’s Yusuf Zalal and Ali Al Qaisi of Jordan taking to the Octagon in featherweight and bantamweight bouts respectively. The presence of two Arab fighters on the same UFC event card in the Middle East for the first time was a significant moment for the sport in the region.

“When organising large-scale international events, it is important to think of the legacy we are leaving behind. Since entering the partnership with UFC®, we have seen interest increase in the sport from fans across the UAE and the Middle East. Now in its second year, the partnership is evolving with a growing pool of Arab fighters who are prepared to prove themselves in the UFC Octagon,” said H.E Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Executive Director, Tourism & Marketing at DCT Abu Dhabi.

Morocco’s Zalal became the first Arab fighter to appear on the main card of a UFC® event in the region when he faced Georgia’s Ilia Topuria at Flash Forum, losing the match on the judges’ decision.

“It’s a proud moment for me being an Arab fighting on the main card of a UFC event in the Arab World. I fought hard. UFC is the best combat sport as it enables all fighters of different backgrounds an equal opportunity to prove their capabilities,” said Zalal.

“Fight Island is a fantastic experience. Sport is not only about winning; hopefully we will inspire more Arab fighters to chase their dreams. Abu Dhabi has shown it is the capital of combat sports, especially in managing to host global events despite the pandemic with full adherence to the highest health and safety standards. Abu Dhabi is also supporting the development of combat sports, with the introduction of jiu-jitsu in schools. My advice to young Arabs thinking of trying MMA is to go for it and dedicate the time and the effort.”

Earlier in the night, Jordan’s Al Qaisi, nicknamed the ‘Royal Fighter’, showed the growing strength of Arab MMA fighters with a laudable performance against Tony Kelley, the match going the distance before the judges called a unanimous decision in favour of the American bantamweight.

“I would like to thank the UFC and Abu Dhabi for giving me this opportunity to get in the Octagon on the world stage and show my capabilities. I was shocked by the judges’ decision to be honest. I feel like I’m still a winner regardless of the result, but I hope I can use this as encouragement to prepare for my next fight,” Al Qaisi said.

“Fight Island is a great event and I really hope it will inspire other Arab fighters out there to follow their dreams,” he added.

Return to Fight Island concludes on Saturday October 24th with UFC 254: NURMAGOMEDOV VS GAETHJE.

About the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi

The Department of Culture and Tourism conserves and promotes the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi emirate and leverages them in the development of a world-class, sustainable destination of distinction, which enriches the lives of visitors and residents alike. The organisation manages the emirate’s tourism sector and markets the destination internationally through a wide range of activities aimed at attracting visitors and investment. Its policies, plans and programmes relate to the preservation of heritage and culture, including protecting archaeological and historical sites and to developing museums, including Zayed National Museum, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and Louvre Abu Dhabi. DCT Abu Dhabi also supports intellectual and artistic activities and cultural events to nurture a rich cultural environment and honour the emirate’s heritage. A key role is to create synergy in the destination’s development through close co-ordination with its wide-ranging stakeholder base.

About UFC:

UFC® is the world’s premier mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, with more than 318 million fans and 102 million social media followers. The organization produces more than 40 live events annually in some of the most prestigious arenas around the world, while broadcasting to nearly one billion TV households across more than 175 countries. UFC’s athlete roster features the world’s best MMA athletes, representing more than 65 countries. The organization’s digital offerings include UFC FIGHT PASS®, the world’s leading streaming service for combat sports. UFC was acquired in 2016 by global entertainment, sports and content company Endeavor and strategic investors Silver Lake Partners and KKR. UFC is headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada. For more information, visit UFC.com and follow UFC at Facebook.com/UFC, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram: @UFC.