Exclusive: UFC's next big star may come from UAE, says senior official

Etihad Arena to hold Abu Dhabi Showdown Week in October


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Sun 24 Jul 2022, 5:22 PM

Last updated: Sun 24 Jul 2022, 5:54 PM

The UAE and the wider Middle East are very important to the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and their international footprint as the organisation is constantly looking for the next big stars, said David Shaw, UFC’s Senior Vice-President, International and Content.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, Shaw pointed out that with the history of martial arts in the GCC, the UFC is confident that its continuous presence in the market and its current relevance, the sports will have an impact on the wider population in the Middle East and especially the UAE. “It is just a matter of time that the next big star will emerge from this region,” he said.

“For us, it’s very important to continue being in the UAE; it’s important to develop and grow these partnerships that have taken us this far.”

Shaw says he is super excited that the UFC is returning to Abu Dhabi this October because the UAE is not only a place of great familiarity but also represents a great opportunity for them to think about the future.

UFC and the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) had last week announced the return of Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, the third event of a five-year partnership, which will be headlined by UFC 281 on Saturday, October 22, at Etihad Arena.

With UFC hosting the first full-capacity event in London earlier this month, the return to Abu Dhabi continues the organisation’s event expansion following the pandemic. UFC 281 will be a blockbuster event, including a crowd-pleasing title bout.

Shaw pointed out that the UAE is incredibly important to the UFC from a business perspective and that the partnership they have with the DCT Abu Dhabi is something they are proud of.

Shaw stressed that Abu Dhabi’s hosting of the ‘fight island’ in 2020/2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic had a profound effect on the UFC. “Hosting the fight island gave us an opportunity to be able to demonstrate UFC’s professionalism, endurance to health and safety and was amongst the best in all professional sports around the world,” said the UFC’s senior Vice President.

“During the pandemic, when the entire world was shut down and many sports organisations were not operating, the fight island gave us an opportunity to connect with fans around the world and a number of new friends that helped us showcase our sport and in building the fun-base around the world.”

Shaw says the fight island brand gave people a lot of enjoyment and brought entertainment to the world where people were dealing with the Covid-19 stress.

According to the official, conversations about extending the current deal the UFC has with Abu Dhabi are ongoing and the UFC is very confident that things will move on well when the right time comes.

“What is most inciting for us is to evaluate some of the opportunities outside of just hosting events and distributing our media content through UAE.

“We feel that there are a lot of opportunities looking ahead in terms of sports science and potentially gaming and other things that would help elevate UFC sports and our fun-base in the UAE and around the world.”

Shaw said he was hopeful that the time would come when the UAE hosts more than one UFC event in a year.

The organisation is also keen on seeing UAE stars fight in the UFC because it would help boost business and accelerate the growth of the sport in the region, as has been the case elsewhere in the world.

Shaw stresses that the exposure the UFC brings to the UAE, particularly from the perspective of attracting tourism is broad and there was no doubt it accelerates growth in this region.


Shaw noted that the exposure UFC brings to the UAE can be viewed in different ways, given the power of their audience. “This is especially from the Television perspective, social media and digital media perspective, our influence in mainstream culture in Hollywood, etc.,” he said.

“When we have shows in Abu Dhabi, we are promoting events that will take place in Abu Dhabi. The virtues, the different principles in the cities, and the people and the architecture.”

Shaw says the UFC’s decision-making process about introducing an event to an international market depends on a few things, including the size of the fun base, the type of media deal they have and how their event is promoted and supported from a marketing and advertising perspective.

He said the UFC is looking forward to exploring more Middle East markets in addition to Africa in the next few years.

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