UFC to host first African fight in Senegal, ignores Nigeria over lack of infrastructure

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Due to a lack of infrastructure, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), an American mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, has passed up Nigeria as the likely first African country to host a combat event, with Senegal emerging as the leader to hold what would be a historic event.

Despite being Africa’s most populous country and the greatest suited market for such a historic event, Nigeria lacks a conventional site to stage a UFC combat event, which is likely the biggest MMA show in the world, even if the business is striving to host an event on the continent soon.

Aside from that, notable fighters in the promotion, such as two-time and current UFC Middleweight champions and former Welterweight champion Karamu Usman, are Nigerians, making Nigeria an ideal location for such an event.

However, the lack of necessary infrastructure to successfully host a UFC event, particularly relatively sized arenas, appears to have pushed Nigeria out of contention to host the promotion’s first fight in Africa.

Africa is the only continent that has yet to host a UFC fight. However, according to UFC’s chief operating officer, Lawrence Epstein, a UFC event in Africa “has been on other radars,” with Senegal’s Dakar Arena being tipped as the most likely venue to host the continent’s first UFC fight.

“A UFC event in Africa has been on our radar for several years – the first thing we look for is an arena that meets our size requirements.” “We prefer arenas with a capacity of 12,000 to 20,000 people,” Lawrence Epstein told BBC Sport Africa.

“Africa certainly has some smaller arenas – there is nothing wrong with that,” he said, “but we like to pack arenas, to create a tremendous amount of energy, and, of course, the more tickets you have to sell, the better.”

“That is why Dakar is leading because they have one of the larger arenas in Sub-Saharan Africa, and many events have already been successful there. Senegal is top of the list based upon the information that our team has put together.””

The Arena, which has a capacity of 15,000 people, opened in August 2018 in Dakar, the country’s capital city, and is home to the Senegal Basketball team. It also famously hosted the 2019 Women’s Afrobasket as well as regular season Basketball Africa League (BAL) conferences in 2022 and 2023.

“The next step is to get our entire operation team down to do a site survey, evaluate the arena, and all the infrastructure we need to put on an event,” Mr Epstein added.

Messrs Karamu and Adesanya, as well as Francis Ngannou, the former UFC heavyweight champion who broke connections with the promotion, have been lobbying the organization to have an event in Africa for some time now.

They have also begun planning the infrastructure and logistics required to properly hold a fight event in Africa.

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