As most have heard, Desert Force will be holding its first event outside of its hometown territory of Jordan in favor of the desert metropolis, Dubai. This is an even bigger step towards becoming a regional powerhouse as opposed to a local organization with a big TV contract. Dubai is just the beginning as Desert Force is keen on touring the entire region.
Since the UFC made their debut in Abu Dhabi in April of 2010, many organizations have tried to capitalize on MMA’s popularity by hosting various events in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, and Fujairah. Whether they were local organizations like ADFC and DFC, or outsiders like Cage Warriors, they all contributed to the rise of the sport in the UAE. Some shows were great, some were bad, but they all contributed nonetheless. Only aspect that was missing was local talent -mainly Emirati fighters.
In every international stop, the UFC scouts and acquires local talent to gain popularity with new fans. Local organizations should follow in the footsteps of the UFC and develop national talent for the future.
Some detractors argue that prepping talent for the big leagues is detrimental to the sport on the local and the regional level when in reality the end goal should be strengthening the sport, period. For a more relevant example, take a look at ONE FC. An organization that capitalized on Pride FC’s demise in Asia following the UFC acquisition to fill the void and capture the Asian market. What resulted is an organization that owns most, if not all the relevant fighters in the continent. That is a blueprint of what to do in order to succeed in this industry at this time and age.
Emirati fighters have been historically underrepresented in local organizations even though there is not a shortage of fighters. Emirati fighters are failing to emerge in the mainstream due to mismanagement and lack of guidance. A primary example is of a promising Emirati fighter, who will remain unnamed. A young man that signed an exclusive contract with a local organization yet has not competed for over two years. The truth is there are a number of skilled practitioners in MMA, boxing and Muay Thai that would try out MMA but there is little incentive to do so.
I strongly believe that in order to be successful locally a card should be split between born and bred individuals and residential nationalities to effectively encompass a wide array of fan bases.
The UAE experience should focus on the overwhelming number of resident nationalities that hail from Southeast Asia and the Middle East as well as up and coming Emirati and GCC talent. These fighters have been outshined by fighters from North America and Europe that are popular among the hardcore fan base but unknown to the newer fans that favor regional talent.
Jiu Jitsu in Abu Dhabi is a primary example of a sport that has been built from the bottom up. The federation brass has invested their time, energy, and money into propping up local stars who have turned into “local heroes” among the new fan bases. These fans have stayed loyal to the sport and followed their favorite local stars.
Desert Force is on the right path. They are rightfully stacking their cards with Arab fighters for Arab audiences. The spotlight has been earned by the competitors who need it most.