UFC President Dana White says he is “beyond the excitement” of the new deal he is about to make with Abu Dhabi, describing it as a “total game changer for all sports combat, not just for the UFC. “
White, in the capital this week for UFC 267, said The National Friday night that he would hold meetings before the last promotion event on Saturday to finalize the plans, and would look to deliver the news directly after the fight night ends at Etihad Arena. White has teased “massive and major” plans for Abu Dhabi in recent months, without giving any details.
“I am more than excited,” he said. “We are making this deal, it is a game changer for all combat sports, not just the UFC.”
UFC’s relationship with Abu Dhabi has grown significantly since the two sides signed a five-year partnership in April 2019 – the deal was to host a major event in the emirate every year until 2023 – and with the Fight Island series introduced last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our relationship couldn’t be better. White said Friday. “I have a great meeting tomorrow and I hope it goes a lot better. I am delighted to share with everyone what we are working on here. I just have to close the deal.
When asked how close negotiations are to completion, White said, “Here we are. I hope I can do it tomorrow, and not announce everything, but announce a lot to you on Saturday after the fight.
“The agreements we are working on are huge. I called Abu Dhabi the wrestling capital of the world because Las Vegas [wimped] out during the pandemic, I will say. The moves we’re making here and the things we’re going to do will only solidify the fact that this is this place.
“We will continue to develop this market, seek talent in this region, develop the fan base here and expand the events. Now we have our own arena here, all the pieces are falling into place now for us to start hosting not only massive fights but also an international fight week here and a lot of other things that we are working on.
At the first Fight Island in July last year – the concept was created by White to allow UFC international athletes to compete during the pandemic – White said he visited homes to buy in Abu Dhabi .
As to whether he had finally accepted a purchase, he said, “No, I haven’t bought a house here yet. When I was preparing to do it, it was during the pandemic. I haven’t been here for nine or ten months.
“But all of that plays into what’s happening on Saturday. There is so much more. Once I can tell you everything, you will understand.”
Dana White received UAE Gold Visa ahead of UFC 267
White was presented with a gold visa from the United Arab Emirates by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Friday evening.
UFC 267 marks the promotion’s return to Abu Dhabi for the first time since January. It features two title fights: Jan Blachowicz’s light heavyweight title defense against No.1 contender Glover Teixeira, and the interim bantamweight championship clash between former champion Petr Yan and the challenger. # 3 Cory Sandhagen.
Other notable fights on a stacked map include Islam Makhachev vs. Dan Hooker and the long-awaited return of Khamzat Chimaev vs. Li Jingliang.
“Every time I host an event I try to host a big event so it’s no different,” said White, who described the Etihad Arena as a “world class venue” on par. with the others accustomed to organizing the UFC. “But obviously when I come here, we come here and we want to deliver. Not just a massive card, but one that really gets the market excited here. “
White said he was particularly looking forward to Shimaev’s return. The Chechen-born Swede was the star of the first Fight Island, when he made his UFC debut with a win, then made history for the fastest turnaround between wins, at 10 days. Both fights, overwhelmingly dominant successes, took place during the race in Abu Dhabi. Chimaev then bowed to Las Vegas in September, knocking out veteran Gerald Meerschaert in 17 seconds.
However, he has not fought since following a prolonged battle with Covid-19. His professional record is 9-0 (3-0 UFC) with all wins via finishes.
“I have to say I’m very excited for the fight against Khamzat,” White said. “Because of what happened the last time we were here with him. And then he got run over by the Covid. Can’t wait to see how he bounces back.
Fighters weigh in for UFC 267
“He’s a guy who I think has the potential to be world champion. So I’m curious to see what it will look like tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Makhachev enters his lightweight encounter against Hooker with high expectations for him. The Dagestan native, who leads an eight-game winning streak, is considered by many to be a future champion of the division. The No.5-ranked contender, 20-1 in pro MMA, was originally scheduled to fight Rafael Dos Anjos, but the former defending champion retired last month due to injury. Hooker, sitting a place below Makhachev in the standings, stepped in as a replacement one month into the fight.
Makhachev, 30, is coached by his retired teammate and former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, and is extremely popular in Abu Dhabi – he won there in 2019 – and across the region. Therefore, there is a lot of pressure to make a statement on Saturday night.
“When you start to move up through the ranks, you will become a hero of your hometown somewhere,” White said. “And you’re always going to have to face the big crowds, the incredible pressure. You heard him say, “I have to put a tampon on this one; I have to show everyone that I am the man and I have to do it with Dan Hooker. He’s the guy I have to show the world who I am.
“And there will always be that pressure. After Hooker, there will be someone else, whether or not you become a World Champion or one of the greatest of all time, every time you go out and fight.
As for Hooker from New Zealand, White added, “For a guy like Hooker, nobody wants to fight Islam. Nobody wants to fight this guy. he just fought [Nasrat Haqparast in Las Vegas on September 25] and he could easily have said, “Look, I want some time and go spend time with my family, find a suitable camp, train for Islam, do this and that.”
Fighters face off before UFC 267
“He jumps at the chance to fight Islam. Don’t hide it, jump on it. He’s the kind of guy we love here.
“And it’s also behind the scenes. For every hometown guy, there is a guy who goes into enemy territory or whatever you want to call him. And that’s another thing Dan Hooker walked in and is ready to do. The guy is an absolute stallion.
Given the obvious regional appeal that Shimaev and Makhachev hold – both are Muslims – White said the preference would remain for the two to compete in Abu Dhabi whenever possible.
“These kind of guys that we’ll always have on a map when we’re here, but they’re also guys that I want to move with,” he said. “I want these guys to fight in Vegas, I want them to fight all over the world.
“Obviously, they are massive in this region. But these are guys who have become stars all over the world. This makes them doubly important. They are big here, big in Russia and big all over the world.
Update: October 30, 2021 10:09 am