The UFC makes it return to Abu Dhabi this weekend with UFC 294. A historic location for the promotion, there's been numerous legendary bouts to take place in the capital city of the UAE. Let's take a look at five significant fights that took place in Abu Dhabi.
The only non-pay-per-view fight on this list, this is one of the most awe-inspiring fights ever seen inside the octagon. Max Holloway faced off against Calvin Kattar in January 2021 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately disallowing a live crowd. Despite this, the two put on a show for the ages, with a total of 1,030 strikes thrown between the two of them. Holloway landed a record-setting 445 significant strikes on Kattar, handing out a dealing of proportions we’ve never seen before and may never see again. Despite this, Kattar proved his heart and earned the respect of the fans when he lasted to the final bell. Holloway won the unanimous decision handedly, with one judge even awarding him a score of 50-42.
The first UFC event to be held either in the Middle East or in an open-air arena, this was meant to be a crowning achievement for the company. Stacking the main card with big-name matchups like Matt Hughes vs. Hoyce Gracie and BJ Penn vs. Frankie Edgar, they all led up to the main event. Anderson Silva was making his sixth title defense of his incredible seven-year title reign and was coming off his absolute dismantling of Forrest Griffin. Now facing a true grappling specialist in Demian Maia, most fans expected more of the same, possibly even quicker. They received practically the opposite; Silva denied all of Maia’s thirteen takedown attempts but barely engaged him on the feet, averaging 12 significant strikes landed per round. UFC President Dana White was so disgusted by the performance that he refused to put the belt on Silva, handing it to Silva’s manager and saying, “You put it on him. I’m not doing it.”
In what was just the third pay-per-view event of the Pandemic era, we received one of the best build-ups to a title fight in years between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa. This fight was the MMA equivalent of an unstoppable object meeting an immovable force: Adesanya, the technical, elusive, smooth-talking champion, and Costa, a brawling, brutal, terrifying challenger. With both men entering the bout with undefeated records, somebody had to lose their 0, leaving fans divided on who would leave the champion. The fight would be extremely decisive, with Adesanya picking Costa apart with leg kicks and stiff shots until earning a second-round finish. Landing 55 significant strikes in just under two rounds, Adesanya solidified himself as a champion and garnered more fan support than ever before. Following this, Costa would famously announce he had gotten drunk drinking wine the night prior, excusing his subpar performance in what has so far been his only title challenge.
While this fight seemed to be another typical defense for dominant champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, it turned out to be his last. Coming in on a four-fight knockout streak, challenger Justin Gaethje presented a unique puzzle for his opponent: a truly dangerous striker with a credentialed wrestling background. Like most Nurmagomedov fights, the fans had more heated exchanges than the fighters, and both sides were highly confident. When the fight finally hit the cage, things appeared close in the first round, with both fighters landing 23 significant strikes. However, upon the start of the second, Nurmagomedov would quickly take Gaethje down and submit him with a triangle choke at just 1:34 in the round. He would then shockingly announce his retirement from the sport at 32, telling the world he had promised his mother he would end his career after his father’s passing.
Two of the biggest stars in the entire sport faced off for the second time in January 2021. This event allowed in about 2,000 fans, making it the third card of 2021 that non-essential event personnel were in attendance. In the seven years since their first meeting, both had evolved massively, particularly McGregor, who had become arguably the biggest star in combat sports. McGregor had returned to the UFC the year prior, and after a first-round win over Donald Cerrone, his fans were raring to go. Due to this, it should come as no surprise that the buy rate of this pay-per-view was more than double that of any other on this list, with approximately 1.5 million buys. After a closely contested first round, Poirier dominated in the second, landing 31 significant strikes to McGregor’s 14 and finishing him with punches on the ground. With this finish becoming one of the most iconic knockouts in recent memory, it fully reignited their rivalry and would lead to an inevitable trilogy bout.