10 most iconic moments In UFC's history in Abu Dhabi

From Khabib Nurmagomedov Islam to Makhachev mixed martial arts has served up a treat for the regions fans at YAS Island


Ashwani Kumar

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Islam Makhachev (red short) competes against Charles Oliveira in the lightweight championship at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2022. - AFP
Islam Makhachev (red short) competes against Charles Oliveira in the lightweight championship at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2022. - AFP

Published: Thu 13 Jul 2023, 8:16 PM

The increasingly popular mixed martial arts promotion will return to Abu Dhabi with UFC 294 this October.

The sporting extravaganza at the iconic Etihad Arena will celebrate 30 years of UFC and more than a decade of association with the UAE Capital.

With just over 100 days to go for the October 21 event, Khaleej Times shares 10 of the top moments the sport has registered in Abu Dhabi, which turned the UFC into a household name across the region and beyond.

Where it all began

On April 10, 2010, the first UFC fight night was held in the Middle East at the Concert Arena at YAS Island. Promoted as UFC 112: Invincible –it was also the first to be held in the open-air arena. Headlined by Brazilian legend Anderson Silva, and featuring the likes of top fighters Frankie Edgar, BJ Penn, Matt Hughes and Renzo Gracie the 10-fight blockbuster card, will always be remembered for kick-starting MMA mania in Abu Dhabi.

The return after four years

The UAE capital waited four years for the return of the UFC in the shape of UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs Nelson in April 2014. Headlined by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Roy Nelson, this event was hosted at the du Arena. Featured on the card was Iran-born Beneil Dariush – a fighter who attracts a lot of support in the region today as and is currently ranked 4th in the UFC lightweight division.

Celebrating new contract

UFC returned to Abu Dhabi with a bang in 2019. A groundbreaking deal between the organisation and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi saw an agreement being signed to hold numbered events each year for five years, kicking off with UFC 242: Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Dustin Poirier in September of that year.

Emotional night for Khabib

September 7, 2019, was not just a massive one for the UFC and Abu Dhabi following their new partnership, but also for the promotion’s star lightweight champion – Khabib Nurmagomedov. A hugely popular figure in the Middle East due to his Muslim faith, Khabib would be cornered by his father, Abdulmanap – which was a rare occurrence as he could not no in the US due to travel restrictions. Despite some adversity from Dustin Poirier, Khabib was able to submit the American in the third round to retain his title on a memorable night.

All eyes on Fight Island

UFC and Abu Dhabi’s relationship was further strengthened in 2020 when the pandemic hit and disrupted most sports events around the world. However, UFC president Dana White was determined to continue hosting his weekly fight nights on an ‘island’ where a bio-secure bubble would ensure safe travel, training facilities and fight nights.

Abu Dhabi liked the idea and stepped forward to help and Fight Island was born in July 2020. Starting Usman vs Masvidal at UFC 251 featured a total of 13 fights. More events were held up to October 2021.

Khabib bids farewell

Little did we think, just 12 months on from his special night in 2019, that we would see Khabib Nurmagomedov fighting for the last fight in the octagon. Mourning the loss of his father, Khabib put on a flawless display to stop American Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in the second round. He immediately announced his retirement saying to honour a promise he had made to his mother, to quit MMA. He ended his career with a perfect 29-0 record.

The Conor show

Conor McGregor, arguably MMA’s most famous fighter, came to Abu Dhabi in January 2021 to take on Dustin Poirier. It was the first time since March 2020 fans would be at a live UFC event, even though the capacity was restricted by Covid-19 regulations in the newly opened Etihad Arena. On this occasion, however, it did not turn out as planned for the Irishman, with Poirier putting in a stunning performance to secure a second-round stoppage.

UFC gets a new home

The UFC had been coming to Abu Dhabi for more than a decade but did not have a permanent, solid, home until the opening of the Etihad Arena in 2021. Three events have since been held in the stunning indoor arena on Yas Island, Boasting an incredible atmosphere, and stunning views of the Octagon, this was the perfect place to watch the thrilling action of the UFC.

Age is just a number for Glover

When Glover Teixeira stepped into the Octagon to face Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267 in October 2021, he had just celebrated his 42nd birthday. Blachowicz had proven irresistible in the light-heavyweight division, but despite being a heavy underdog, Teixeira was able to control the fight from the outset and become the second-oldest champion in UFC history.

Makhachev takes over

Always seen as a protege of Khabib Nurmagomedov, Islam Makhachev was been no stranger to Abu Dhabi, having fought there twice as he built up an impressive 11-fight win streak. At UFC 280 in October 2022, he fought former champion Charles Oliveira for the vacant lightweight title in front of a capacity crowd that showed their support for the Russian fighter. And he did not disappoint. A career-defining performance resulted in a second-round stoppage win, and the UFC lightweight title – which he still holds today.


More news from Sports