Justin Gaethje (right) lands a punch on Tony Ferguson during a UFC 249 mixed martial arts bout on Saturday. AP
UFC President Dana White has vowed that the Middle East’s “well-educated” fans will continue to witness “massive fights” in Abu Dhabi as he embarks on educating the world on the UAE capital as a premier UFC destination.
White told UFC Arabia, Justin Gaethje, who defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 mega event at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville on Saturday, will likely face UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov in a unification bout — a match-up that could be staged in Abu Dhabi.
“I don’t know what the landscape is going to look like when Khabib’s ready to fight. I don’t know who is going to win this Saturday that will face Khabib next. We will have to see how this thing plays out. It could be in Abu Dhabi, it could be anywhere,” White told UFC Arabia.
“We are going to just keep putting on massive fights in Abu Dhabi and keep educating the world on what an incredible destination for fights it is.
“For people from America, Australia, the UK, or wherever it might be, being a fight fan, you have to check out a fight in Abu Dhabi at some point. Get there, take in the culture, stay in the gorgeous hotels, eat in the unbelievable restaurants, it is truly a great destination for fights.”
“We have a five-year deal with Abu Dhabi for fights in the Middle East. I have an incredible relationship with Abu Dhabi.
“Any opportunity that I can get to do an event in Abu Dhabi, I will be there. It is a very well-educated market, fans love the sport, they get the sport, they support the sport.”
First and foremost, however, the global sporting spotlight will fall on UFC® 249 tonight and White has promised fans are in for a massive treat.
“The thing to watch for most is the main event. If you cannot make Ferguson vs Khabib, the fight you make is Ferguson vs Gaethje. I absolutely, positively guarantee you the main event is going to be ridiculous. I promise,” he said.
“Cejudo vs Dominick Cruz; Ngannou vs Rozenstruik is a ridiculous heavyweight match-up. Jeremy Stephens and Calvin Kattar is just incredible. I mean I can just keep going.
“This is one of the best cards we have ever put together. And I guarantee you that the main event will blow your mind.”
Meanwhile, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday became the first major American sporting event held since the US coronavirus outbreak, with President Donald Trump congratulating the promoter.
The controversial card put the UFC in the spotlight like never before, but did not go off without a hitch after middleweight Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was dropped when he and two of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
The main event saw Justin Gaethje dominate Tony Ferguson with a fifth-round technical knockout victory in the lightweight division.
Gaethje finished his opponent off three minutes and 39 seconds into the fifth to earn the interim lightweight crown.
“It worked out great,” said promoter Dana White. “I am happy with the way it went tonight.”
In a pre-recorded video shown during the undercard fights, Trump -- who in November attended a ufc card -- congratulated White for the sport’s return.
“Get the sports leagues back, let’s play,” the president said.
“You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do, but we need sports. We want our sports back.”
The fights were staged in an empty 15,000-seat VyStar Veterans Memorial arena in Jacksonville, Florida, after earlier attempts to hold it in New York and California failed due to pandemic restrictions on live sporting events.
The global outbreak has largely shut down the American economy, but Florida authorities have deemed professional sports -- including mixed martial arts -- essential businesses.
White downplayed the negative impact of Souza’s positive test and insisted it showed they were on top of things.
“Obviously the system that we set up works. We found out he was positive and all the other tests were negative,” he said.
“We have two more fights this week. We will do over 1,100 tests.”
He has also announced cards for Wednesday and next Saturday in Jacksonville — despite stating he expects to see more positive coronavirus tests this week.
After unifying the UFC lightweight title with a third-round submission win over interim champion Dustin Poirier, Khabib Nurmagomedov looks forward to return to Abu Dhabi to fight again.
A contingent of UFC’s biggest stars have lauded Abu Dhabi’s potential to further enrich the global domination of the world’s leading mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation.
The main event of Saturday’s UFC 249 card in Florida is billed as being for the interim lightweight title but Tony Ferguson says he should be considered the real champion if he beats opponent Justin Gaethje.
"It's a very difficult situation. I personally have over 20 relatives... who were in intensive care. Many of them are not with us anymore. Many of my acquaintances are dead," Nurmagomedov said.
Kings XI Punjab will bank on in-form Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell to deliver in their Indian Premier League (IPL) opening match against Delhi Capitals on Sunday.
After holders Bayern Munich kicked-off the new Bundesliga season with a record 8-0 thrashing of Schalke, new-signing Jhon Cordoba scored on his debut in a 4-1 away romp at Werder Bremen on Saturday as the ambitious capital city club threw down an early marker.
Tottenham Hotspur have signed winger Gareth Bale and left back Sergio Reguilon from Spanish champions Real Madrid, the Premier League club announced in a statement on Saturday.