10. Abu Dhabi, UAE
Abu Dhabi may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of a city that would be on this list. It doesn’t have the historic arena like that of Madison Square Garden or the glitz and glamor one might think of when compared to a city like Las Vegas. But Abu Dhabi does have its place in the sports world, and most especially in the world of combat sports.
Abu Dhabi was the original host of the ADCC (“Abu Dhabi Combat Club”) Submission Wrestling World Championship, perhaps the most prestigious grappling competition in the world. The competition — which promotes the styles of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, wrestling and Sambo, among others — has played host to several athletes who would go on to transition into MMA. Noted past participants of the competition include Renzo, Roger and Kron Gracie, as well as Mark Kerr, Demian Maia, Fabricio Werdum, Ricardo Arona, Ricco Rodriguez, Mackenzie Dern, Gordon Ryan and Rani Yahya. Abu Dhabi also hosts a grand slam held annually by the International Judo Federation.
Abi Dhabi first played host to a UFC card with UFC 112 in 2010, a noteworthy, disappointing affair that saw Anderson Silva retain the UFC middleweight championship in an infamous outing with Demian Maia. It also featured Frankie Edgar upsetting BJ Penn for the lightweight title, Matt Hughes TKOing Renzo Gracie and a highlight showing from a young future champion in Rafael dos Anjos. The capital city of the UAE then hosted a Fight Night card in April 2014 that was capped off by Roy Nelson scoring a first-round knockout of Antonio Rodrigo “Big Nog” Nogueira.
The UFC returned to Abu Dhabi with UFC 242 in September 2019, which saw Khabib Nurmagomedov make his second successful defense of the UFC lightweight title by submitting Dustin Poirier. Mere months later, as the world was being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, Abu Dhabi was called upon to serve as the highly-teased “Fight Island” for the UFC, a move to help assist international fighters a better chance at securing fights during the pandemic. The UFC’s first tenure on Fight Island came with four events in July 2020, including the highly-stacked UFC 251. The promotion’s second stint on Fight Island came in September-October 2020, beginning with UFC 253 and ending with UFC 254 about a month later.
The UFC may have a third Fight Island stint beginning in January 2021, which will include hosting UFC 257 and its main event of Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor 2.