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Abu Dhabi punches its way into global boxing reckoning

The WBA light-heavyweight world title fight between Dmitry Bivol and Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez is at Abu Dhabi's Etihad Arena on November 5
  • Abu Dhabi is becoming a global sporting hub
  • Home of UFC and now hosting WBA light-heavyweight title fight
  • GCC states have spent $58bn on sports development

Having won the battle to become the international home of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), Abu Dhabi is now looking to rival Las Vegas and Saudi Arabia as a destination to host the world’s top boxing matches.

UFC, the multi-billion dollar mixed martial arts organisation, signed a deal with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) in 2019 to bring championship events to the emirate for the following five years. 

Now, it has secured the WBA light-heavyweight world title clash between Dmitry Bivol and Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez at the Etihad Arena on November 5.

Bivol vs Ramirez is the latest high-profile sporting event to be hosted in Abu Dhabi, which is rapidly transforming into a global hub for sport.

The announcement comes just a couple of weeks after Jeddah hosted the highly anticipated world heavyweight title rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, which Usyk won.

Abu Dhabi already offers a year-round schedule of world-class events including Formula 1, UFC, NBA, golf, cricket, tennis, football, esports tournaments and now boxing, with a new partnership with Matchroom Sport. 

Person, Human, Man
UFC fight promotion at the Etihad Arena last October: Jan Blachowicz vs Glover Teixeira

Bivol is coming off a huge upset win over Mexican pound-for-pound superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, which took place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in May. 

The 31-year-old handed Alvarez only the second loss of his career, nine years on from his first at the hands of Floyd Mayweather.

“We are thrilled for yet another boxing spectacle in Abu Dhabi, partnering with global giants Matchroom Boxing to add further monumental events to our exciting calendar,” said Saleh Mohamed Saleh Al Geziry, director general for tourism, at DCT Abu Dhabi.  

“Once again, the eyes of the world will be on Abu Dhabi on November 5 as a major sporting hub hosting world-class sport. 

“As the host destination, we are eager to share our warm Emirati hospitality with visiting fans,” he added. “We offer them incredible, exciting, restorative and inspiring experiences to explore, at their own pace.”

“I’m delighted to bring this huge world title fight to Abu Dhabi, in what will be the start of a groundbreaking journey for Matchroom Boxing in a new territory,” said Matchroom Sport chairman Eddie Hearn. 

“The card will be stacked with world championship fights. It is set to be one of the biggest nights of boxing in 2022.”

Michael Bessey, GCC regional representative for global public affairs consulting firm ASG, told AGBI recently: “The focus on sports is being driven by a combination of economics and geopolitics. 

“The Gulf countries see the sports and entertainment sector as an engine for economic diversification. 

“Major international sporting events are an opportunity to invest in public infrastructure projects and attract international tourism flows. These countries also see sports as a diplomatic and public relations tool.”  

PwC research shows that while the growth of the global sports market is expected to slow to three percent over the next few years, the Middle East region is forecast to see growth of 8.7 percent over the same period.

According to PwC, the GCC states have spent more than £50 billion ($58 billion) on sports development, with more to come.

In June, Abu Dhabi announced it is to host the historic Cowes Week sailing regatta, the first time in its 196-year-old history that the event will take place outside the UK.

The emirate also revealed a partnership with the Argentina Football Association to host its World Cup 2022 warm-up matches.

Car, Automobile, Vehicle
Formula 1 at Yas Marina circuit, Abu Dhabi

Five sporting highlights in Abu Dhabi in 2022

  • The Milwaukee Bucks will face off against the Atlanta Hawks in Abu Dhabi in an NBA first. The pre-season friendly will take place at the Etihad Arena on October 6 and 8.
  • The UFC Fight Island series is returning to Abu Dhabi on October 22 with UFC 281, the 17th UFC event to take place in the emirate.
  • The Formula 1 season will conclude at the Yas Marina Circuit from November 18-20.
  • Yas Island will host the pinnacle of the world triathlon series from November 23-26 and will feature the sport’s biggest stars.
  • T10 cricket returns to Abu Dhabi for a fourth time when Zayed Cricket Stadium hosts the tournament between November 23 and December 4. The 2021 edition attracted top stars such as Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell and Moeen Ali.

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