Many fans were left disappointed when the UFC announced ‘Fight Island’ was in fact Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, a location the promotion had been to three times before, most recently last September. With the fantasy of fights taking place on a beach, with waves crashing in the background sadly being left on the back-burner, we take a look at the UFC’s first foray into the Middle East market, UFC 112: Invincible.
The UFC announced in early 2010 that the promotion would stage its first event in Abu Dhabi on the 10th April in what would be a historic event for both the company and the United Arab Emirates. Flash Entertainment- a government owned company acquired a 10% stake in the UFC in January 2010, and set the wheels in motion for the first event to be staged in Asia since 2000.
Anderson Silva was expected to defend his middleweight crown against fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort in the main event, however an injury to ‘The Phenoms’ shoulder ruled him out, and after Chael Sonnen turned the fight down Demian Maia was drafted in. Despite having a Nevada State medical suspension till early August after a gruelling three round decision win over Dan Miller, Maia was to headline his first event in Abu Dhabi.
Another UFC star BJ Penn was also defending his UFC title against Frankie Edgar, and other notable fights on the undercard included Matt Hughes vs Renzo Gracie, Rafael Dos Anjos vs Terry Etim and Phil Davis vs Alexander Gustafsson.
On the night at the purpose built Concert Arena (that was torn down the week after the event) a capacity crowd watched as Anderson Silva posed, clowned and more than anything else disappointed as he laboured to a five round decision against the overmatched Maia. It was abundantly clear Silva could have his way with Maia on the feet, but instead of adding to his already bulging array of highlight finishes, instead chose to showboat and snipe Maia from the outside every so often, with even referee Dan Miragliotta warning the champion for not engaging.
On the undercard big wins for Phil Davis and Dos Anjos were overshadowed by a lacklustre co-main that ended with a controversial decision, as Frankie Edgar dethroned long reigning lightweight champion BJ Penn over five rounds. Penn was expected to retain his title with another routine defence, and despite Edgar putting up more of a fight than many expected, the general consensus was that ‘The Prodigy’ had done enough to earn the decision. But it wasn’t to be, as Edgar claimed the win on all three scorecards, bizarrely even being given every round on one card.
Outside the cage UFC 112 was a major success, selling out the arena and selling more PPV’s than any other overseas event, with 525,000 buys. All the more surprising when you consider the event aired at 1 PM ET and 10 AM PT. since then the UFC has returned to Abu Dhabi in 2014 with a Fight Night event, but it wasn’t until 2019 and the UFC’s third Abu Dhabi event that the promotion returned with one of their big stars (Khabib) for UFC 242.
A five year deal was signed in April 2019 that was to bring at least one title fight to the country each year, and it is believed the current ‘Fight Island’ events are not part of this five year deal. With the UFC’s original movements into the Middle Eastern market failing miserably with UFC 112, it is perhaps ironic that now ten years later the company is relying on the region heavily in order to give international fighters the chance to fight, and it is a real possibility that Yas Island and Abu Dhabi become significant players in the sport going forward.