Abu Dhabi Showdown Week is underway with MMA fans invited to take part in a series of interactive events and classes that will culminate with UFC 267 on Saturday night, when Jan Blachowicz will defend his light-heavyweight title against the division’s No.1 contender Glover Teixeira.
Fatima Saeed Al-Baloushi, deputy director, Abu Dhabi Events Bureau, said that the success of previous UFC events in the UAE capital in the wake of the pandemic had paved the way for holding the week-long festival in the presence of fans again.
“In January, Abu Dhabi took a major step forward with the return of live events and over a period of seven days, we made it possible for fans to return to live events, not once but three times,” Al-Baloushi said. “UFC Fight Island Triple Header was a momentous achievement for the capital and raised the bar for all live events amid the ongoing global situation.”
Being one of the first live events open to the public, stringent health and safety protocols were put in place as crowds of up to 2,000 were allowed into the newly opened Etihad Arena on yas Island.
“We organized a dedicated ‘safe spectator journey’ to ensure all fans could enjoy three nights of top-class Octagon action,” she said. “Learning from all the previous events, Abu Dhabi Showdown Week will be another one for the history books. It’s definitely not to be missed.”
The First Fight Island at Yas Island took place behind closed doors in July of 2020, and its success led to high praise from UFC President Dana White, paving its return in September and January, when limited crowds were allowed back.
“We showed during the three editions of Fight Island that we were capable of giving global fighters a platform to come together and fight when much of the world was still closed,” Al-Baloushi said. “That really resonated with the athletes and the fact they could come here and just focus on their job, and enjoy some downtime.”
“We always strive to bring the best fighters to Abu Dhabi, fighters we know will appeal to our fervent fanbase. They appreciate the level of support they get here.”
Abu Dhabi Showdown Week is now underway with a series of city-wide activities, including fan events and fitness showcases. The week-long festival of MMA and lifestyle events will culminate in UFC 267 on Oct. 30.
Throughout the week fans can take part in open workouts as well as “Escape & Evolve,” an immersive experience at the W Abu Dhabi. Guests who attend this event get access to UFC 267, an overnight stay at W Abu Dhabi — Yas Island as well as mixed martial arts training sessions with Firas Zahabi, head coach of Tristar Gym. In addition, there will be be fitness workshops with the likes of Tunisian UFC fighter Mounir Lazzez.
“We are always keen to bring the best fighters to Abu Dhabi, and that was shown in the previous UFC events on Fight Island, which included Khabib Nurmagomedov, Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier and Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman,” Al-Baloushi said.
On Saturday night, Jan Blachowicz’s bout with Glover Teixeira will top the card, with the co-main event seeing former bantamweight belt-holder Petr Yan taking on Cory Sandhagen in an interim title fight.
Blachowicz in particular has become an Abu Dhabi fan favorite following his impressive victory over then-champion Dominick Reyes to claim the light-heavyweight title on UFC Fight Island last September, becoming Poland’s first UFC champion in the process.
The card will also see Islam Makhachev look to extend his winning streak to 10 fights when he faces contender Dan Hooker, himself coming off an impressive victory at UFC 266 in Las Vegas recently. Meanwhile Sweden’s Khamzat Chimes, who will fight Li Jingliang, returns to Abu Dhabi following his successful UFC debut at Fight Island in July 2020.
Al-Baloushi says that Yas Island is becoming a favored venue for many of the fighters such as Blachowicz.
“Khamzat is another of those fighters,” she said. “He made his UFC debut on Fight Island last year and impressed everybody with his victories, so is sure to have a lot of support when he steps into the Octagon again in Abu Dhabi.”
In the long term, Al-Baloushi is hoping that Abu Dhabi’s standing as a UFC hub will open the door for higher participation from the region.
“Yes, the sport is growing quite rapidly in the region,” she said. “Viewership has increased drastically over the past few years but even the number of youngsters chosen to follow the sport and immerse themselves in it has escalated.”
“There are an increasing number of Arab fighters in UFC and as the sport continues to grow in the region, we are looking forward to seeing more and more Arab and Emirati representation in the sport,” Al-Baloushi said.