When the fastest growing sport in the world meets one of the fastest growing economies in the world expect fireworks.

During the first week of September, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation descended on UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi, where the eyes of the world were on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s return to the Octagon – in his first bout since his infamous victory over Conor McGregor.

We have been working with UFC for the past 12 months and were enlisted to travel from London to Abu Dhabi to help manage the press office at UFC 242. In our time working with UFC, we have been able to see MMA fans and fighters up close and personal – but this event showcased the power of the sport on another level.

Niamh Moran, who was part of our team for the event, has picked out four things she learnt from her time Octagon-side in Abu Dhabi:

1. Challenging gender stereotypes

UFC is one of the first sports to truly challenge gender stereotypes in sport and offer its athletes equal opportunity. It’s an organisation where women compete alongside men, with top-level female fights given main or co-main event status on merit and promoted as strongly as their male counterparts.

Having a female in the public spotlight in Abu Dhabi 20 years ago may have been unthinkable, but thanks to a sport like UFC this is now a possibility. This empowerment was exemplified by two all-female bouts at UFC 242, including Scottish fighter Joanne Calderwood who entered the history books as one of the first ladies to feature in an all-female bout in United Arab Emirates.

2. Power of respect

As fight night drew to a close, the main event was underway where lightweight athletes Khabib and Dustin Poirier fought for the UFC lightweight title.

Following the bout, both athletes showed immense respect for each other as Khabib promised to donate the money he made off his winning t-shirt to Dustin’s charity – The Good Fight Foundation, a charity run by Poirier that gives the proceeds of his auctioned fight kit to local community initiatives.

Since the fight, UFC president Dana White has matched Khabib’s donation of $100,000 to Dustin’s charity – resulting in a combined $200,000 to a fantastic cause.


3. More than just a sport

In my opinion, this was the sweet spot of UFC 242; where the sincerity of professional MMA met the ease of musical entertainment which helped UFC captivate audiences across the UAE.

This was also due to the Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, seven days of 29 city-wide events to celebrate the diversity of MMA. Fight week was the epitome of sport entertainment from Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ concert to a world leading fitness expo. UFC is one of the best organisations in the world at combining sport and entertainment – and one that a lot of sports bodies could certainly learn from.

The musical events combined with the drama and stories of the fighters meshed into a very entertaining fight week and allowed UFC to engage with consumers’ passion points.

4. Translating UFC to the local market

While UFC has previously visited Abu Dhabi in 2014 and 2010, there was an element of education that needed to be done to translate the story to local media.

For a global organisation, the importance of local media is not to be underestimated, as they act as the conjugate to the public on the ground. UFC’s appreciation of this was exemplified by inviting local media to fight week events, giving them a chance to get a feel for the different athletes and the sport itself.

Its engagement with local media in Abu Dhabi led to in-depth coverage throughout fight week with positive pieces published in The National and Khaleej Times. There were roughly 500 articles written on the event during fight week alone.

What’s next?

The global expansion of UFC and its presence in UAE is ever-growing and evident from UFC 242, entering the history books, selling out events and landing great media coverage!

Next up is UFC Copenhagen which we will also be present at, keep your eyes on our social media channels to catch all the action:

To learn more about our day-to-day with UFC, please feel free to email me: niamh@wearetheplaybook.com