The Middle East has become a lucrative market when it comes to providing various content, including sports events. Mixed Martial Arts follows this trend as three major promotions have plans to notice their presence in the region by signing the local talent or holding events there, mainly in the United Arab Emirates.
Ultimate Fighting Championship, an Abu Dhabi regular
The world biggest MMA promotion has been visiting Abu Dhabi since 2010 and UFC 112 Invincible. It was UFC’s first outdoor event held at the venue specially build for this occasion, which was thorn down the following week. The ties between UFC and Abu Dhabi got stronger during the world pandemics, when the promotion held events in a special, closed to a general public area on Yas Island dubbed the ‘Fight Island” and later at Eithad Arena.
Most recently UFC President Dana White revealed that fans and fighters can expect a series of big announcements concerning the region’s MMA circuit. During the UFC 277 post-fight press conference he said:
“When I get there, I’ve been talking about this for a year, now when we get there I’m finally gonna make all these big announcements that I’ve been waiting to do. Me and the government over there are ready to roll, we’re ready to announce. So I’m excited. And once we implement all these things we’re working over there… it’s gonna be huge for a local fighters out there.”
Watch Dana White talk about UFC’s plans for Middle East in the video below:
Only time will tell what UFC and local government got in store for fight fans
UFC will hold an event in Abu Dhabi on October 22 at Etihad Arena, Yas Island, which will be headlined by a Lightweight title fight between former champion Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev, who has an impressive 22 – 1 record.
ONE Championship, a one-time guest
The Singapore promotion had only one event that took place in the Middle East. ONE: Reign of Champions took place on August 29, 2014 at World Trade Centre in Dubai. It was headlined by Shinya Aoki’s successful lightweight title defense against Kamal Shalorus, Ben Askren’s title win against Nobutatsu Suzuki, and the end of Koji Oishi’s title reign at featherweight at the hands of Narantungalag Jadambaa.
Most recently ONE announced a partnership with Media City Quatar with a Memorandum of Understanding to“develop a strategic long-term partnership, collaborating in the production and development of a wide range of global content in Qatar across multiple media sectors, including original programming, studio shows, and esports, that will strengthen Qatar’s growing media ecosystem.” as we can read in the press release.
It looks like the first move by ONE Championship will be featuring Qatar in the filming of the second season of the Netflix series, “The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition” with future live events taking place in the region being considered in the undisclosed future.
Professional Fighters League, a new player in the region
PFL is currently looking to expand its’ field of operation and make an impact on the new market. After announcing a new European circuit the promotion switches its’ focus on the Middle East, the Emirates to be exact.
PFL CEO Peter Murray visited UAE last month in order to find opportunities to enter the market by possibly establishing a new league based on local fighters.
In his interview with The National Murray said:
“There’s an incredible amount of interest to grow the sport of MMA throughout the UAE, including Dubai. We were meeting with stakeholders to collaborate on how to advance Dubai in becoming a real force and at the forefront of the next phase of growth of MMA.”
“No 1, there is an underserved consumer base throughout the UAE for fans who want access to more quality MMA and events. And, with respect to athletes, there’s a growing fighter base at the grassroots level, amateur level, and pro level who are looking for outlets and opportunities to compete on a major stage.”
He added that establishing PFL UAE is a top priority for the promotion:
“We just announced PFL Europe and, as we see it, the UAE is absolutely a top region, a top priority, and a market where we will have a regional league, so PFL UAE. That’s a priority and we intend to roll that out. We’re in the process of assessing a multitude of options to do that as well as partnerships. There’s interest throughout UAE and other parts of the region. We’re assessing the right path and the right partner, and we’re very excited. Again, as a whole, it’s really good for the Middle East and the UAE that the PFL will invest in growing the sport of MMA, signing athletes from grassroots, providing pro athletes regional opportunities, staging major events. And Dubai is absolutely in the consideration set, among others.”
According to him, this new league could begin its’ operations no sooner than 2023 and its’ main focus would be to elevate local talent to the main competition in PFL Regular Season and Play Offs.