A Blow by Blow Account of the UFC in Abu Dhabi
An edited version of this article appeared in Abu Dhabi Week magazine in April 2010. It no longer appears online. This piece remains one of my favourites that I wrote for Abu Dhabi Week.
Abu Dhabi welcomed 12,000 roaring fans this weekend as the Ultimate Fighting Championship came to the capital. Fighting for the first time ever in an outdoor stadium, twenty athletes demonstrated skill, strategy and passion in the famous Octagon.
The evening saw more than one upset as blood flew, underdogs left victorious and one darling lost favour with his fans. Prior to the event, much attention went to the top three fights – a double main event and one battle of the legends – but many in attendance would agree that the earlier fights between the lesser known contenders were more entertaining.
The crowd went wild when Saudi-born Mostapha al Turk entered the cage against the surprisingly pudgy Jon Madsen in the first match of the night, but the support of the audience wasn’t enough to bring the hometown favourite to victory. In a colonial contest, UK native Paul Kelly and American Matt Veach proved that this is not a sport for the faint of heart as the victorious Kelly finally forced his opponent – bloodied from head to waist by the end – to submit by tapping out.
Some of the later events proved more surprising. Pennsylvanian Phil Davis – wearing shocking pink shorts – took down Swedish national Alex Gustafsson in less than five minutes, proving that if you’re going to wear fuchsia, you’d better be able to put your money where your mouth is. Though Kendall Grove topped his opponent by six inches, the Filipino born Mark Munoz pounded his way to glory, defeating his more experienced compatriot. And it was the general consensus of all in attendance that if Terry Etim had the poor sense to go into the ring accompanied by the incongruous tones of Phil Collins, he deserved the beating he got at the hands of Raphael Dos Anjos.
While there was some speculation that the Hughes/Gracie fight would demonstrate a true rivalry between the two legends of the sport, it came as no real surprise when these professionals treated each other with admiration and respect. It was also no surprise when 44 time winner Hughes defeated the 43 year old Gracie – who competed this weekend for the first time ever in the Octagon – proving that family name is nothing against experience in this game of gladiators.
Almost no one, however, was expecting the result of the title match between BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar. Defending his belt in the World Lightweight Championship, Penn was much loved going into the outdoor arena, as evidenced by the number of spectators who arrived decked out in Penn paraphernalia. Though other bouts of the evening featured much prancing about, these two fought with heart to the end of the 5th round when Edgar took the title by the judges’ decision, surprising the victor almost as much as the fans.
The evening ended on a sour note, however, when the highly publicized Anderson Silva took to the cage to defend his World Middleweight Championship belt against Demian Maia. Though the two went the entire five rounds, leaving Maia’s face a bloodied, swollen wreck, the men spent more time dancing in front of each other than they did hitting each other. Maia was never able to employ his many floor skills, and Silva – who has been called the nicest guy in the sport – took several opportunities to taunt his opponent. The crowd’s laughter died down by the third round, however, when spectators tired of Silva’s antics and urged him to finish the bout, by the end fully supporting the heart of the exhausted Maia. The judges finally declared Silva the winner, but while he may have won the match, he won no hearts or minds in Abu Dhabi.