Having a Muslim role model in UFC for the first time in Khabib Nurmagomedov will help fuel the growth of UFC Gyms across the Middle East even more, according to officials.
The Russian became an overnight sensation for beating Conor McGregor in UFC 229 in Las Vegas last month, and although Khabib soured the victory by jumping out of the octagon to confront members of McGregor’s camp, many saw it as justified for the way McGregor had provoked Khabib before the fight.
Despite the indiscretion and the fact he isn’t even from this region, the Dagestani fighter won a legion of fans in the Middle East, and now UFC Gyms are expecting that to translate into more gyms and members regionally.
“We were at our tipping point anyway, but having someone like Khabib just validates it, and shows that the brand is going to be explosive in this region,” said UFC Gym President Adam Sedlack.
The first UFC Gym in the UAE opened in Business Bay in 2016, and now there are three more in JBR, Oman and Bahrain, with two more set to open in Egypt and Kuwait.
“One of the most important regions for us was the Middle East and when you look at fan base we knew it was going to be incredible, but we also knew conditioning-wise, there was a huge amount of opportunity too.
“To have someone like him step up and separate himself to become arguably the best in the sport right now, he turns into that brand ambassador and what happens is kids get motivated, inspired can relate and connect, and think: ‘if he can do I can do it’.
“If a kid is going to school right now and isn’t in shape and sees someone like Khabib do an incredible feat, he or she can say I want to train like him, now that child can come here and we can have our village of coaches take that child and help him become the best version of himself.”
UFC Gyms already have a multitude of members across the UAE, but are now planning expansion into more communities using a range of different gym models and sizes to suit different markets.
“We’ve created a good foundation with some incredible people and are ready to leverage them into leadership positions across the region, so I think you’ll see UFC Gym become the biggest fitness brand in this region over the next 5-10 years,” added Sedlack.
“We could have hundreds very easily,” said UFC Gym chief executive and chairman Mark Mastrov of the facilities, which would suit this market given the UAE’s burgeoning interest in jiu-jitsu, thanks to the endorsement of the sport by the country’s rulers.
Khabib even visited the UAE after his fight last month to meet fans, while UFC Gym Middle East recently launched a region-wide jiu-jitsu youth programme, part of which will offer slots to five underprivileged but deserving kids.
“There’s no doubt Khabib has made a huge difference and created more attention,” added Mastrov. “It doesn’t hurt at all. We’ve been here a long time before, and he and others like him will continue to emerge because there are amazing athletes in this region. They’ll be like Khabib and will inspire many others to do the same. With the trainers we have here we can definitely help them evolve, they have all the skills to help someone get to that level, but to really get to Khabib’s level they may have to then seek out the best in the world, but it’s fair to say we can connect them to that level.”
Both Sedlack and Mastrov were in Dubai as part of UFC Gym’s support of the Dubai Fitness Challenge.