This weekend, the UFC continues its rapid global expansion with UFC 242 taking place in the Middle East – Abu Dhabi to be exact.
UFC 242 is a pay-per-view event with the headline fight featuring Khabib Nurmagedomov in a defence of his World Lightweight Championship against Dustin Poirier.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) may seem like an unlikely venue for an event typifying the culture of the western world. Yet, it’s not the first time UAE has hosted UFC.
In 2010, UFC 112 was held on Yas Island in what was the first-ever UFC in an outdoor arena. The Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) sporting event made a return in 2014 but has not been in the UAE in the five years since.
Las Vegas, Nevada, is unofficially considered to be the home of the UFC, having played host to the lion’s share of official events since around 2001. Although the Las Vegas times don’t suit us UFC fans on this side of the Atlantic, it’s the most financially rewarding for the organisation themselves thanks to a dominant US market.
Since its incarnation in 1993, the UFC has touched down in over 120 cities in more than 20 countries throughout the world.
Zuffa purchased the UFC in 2001 for around $2 million. In 2016, Zuffa was purchased by the William Morris Endeavour (WME-IMG) Group for over $4 billion.
The UFC arrived in Japan in 1997, Brazil in ‘98, Vegas in ‘01, the UK in ‘02, Australia and the UAE in 2010.
Its growth in the 26 years since it was founded has followed a carefully plotted path. Now that route includes expansion into the potentially huge Chinese market.
Back in June, UFC.com announced “a series of historic milestones that will continue to drive the company’s ambitious growth plans in China.”
The first milestone marks a culmination of more than a year of planning and construction, as UFC celebrates the grand opening of the UFC Performance Institute Shanghai, the world’s largest, state-of-the-art MMA training and development facility. Nearly three times as large as the original UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, the 93,000 square-foot facility in Shanghai will serve as a training hub to develop and support the next generation of MMA athletes from mainland China and the greater Asia-Pacific region.
UFC will also utilise the building as its headquarters in Asia, housing UFC employees and UFC Performance Institute staff, including experts in the fields of MMA, strength and conditioning, sports science, physical therapy and nutrition. Additional features will include hospitality suites, dining, retail services, and a fan experience area.
The grand opening of UFC Performance Institute Shanghai comes as UFC prepares for a historic live event in China this August that will mark a series of “firsts” for the company.”
They were true to their word. UFC Fight Night 157 was contested in Shenzhen, China, on Saturday, August 31st. It has been deemed a huge success judging by the reaction of MMA fans around the world.
The event was boosted by the organisation crowning its first ever Asian world champion, as Zhang Weili completed a surprise victory by knocking out former champions, Jessica Andrade.
Earlier this year, the organisation agreed to a deal with Qutoutiao which meant UFC fans in China could now access short-form video content. The UFC account on Qutoutiao shows highlights from live UFC events, special features and interviews, knock-out of the week and more. This would certainly have helped prepare Chinese fans for the arrival of the UFC in Shenzhen last week.
UFC’s Senior Vice President of the Asia-Pacific region, Kevin Chang, outlined the reasoning behind the Qutoutiao deal.
“We are always looking at innovative ways to reach more fanbase in China and provide them with premium UFC content. We are honoured to be partnering with Qutoutiao and providing their hundreds of millions of users with engaging mixed martial arts content on a daily basis.”
After the success of UFC Shenzhen and the Abu Dhabi event to come this weekend, Dana White and his team have shown once again they know the course they’re taking. It might not please some hardcore fight fans to see the sport drift away from its Las Vegas HQ and a timezone that suits a US audience.
However, the organisation knows it must expand to thrive and survive. It needs to implant some other roots around the globe. As long as it always comes home in the end, isn’t that all that matters?