Abu Dhabi is “fully prepared” to welcome back spectators to live events when it is deemed safe to do so, although this weekend’s UFC 254 will go ahead behind closed doors.
Local organisers had assessed the possibility of allowing a limited number of fans to attend Saturday's much-anticipated conclusion to "Return to Fight Island", which is headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov's lightweight unification bout against Justin Gaethje.
Etihad Arena was considered as a possible host venue, but the event will take place as originally planned at Flash Forum. Both Fight Island series - the UFC’s inaugural residency was staged in July - have been held at the facility, which sits inside a six square-kilometre “safe zone” on Yas Island. UFC 254 is the fifth event of the current run.
"We are aware how eager spectators are to return to UFC; the sport has a huge fan base in Abu Dhabi and across the region," Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, executive director, tourism and marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, told The National.
“However, health and safety is our No 1 priority, and to ensure that 'Return to Fight Island' continues to be a safe and secure environment for all parties, UFC 254, which promises to be a thrilling end to a series of five great events, will be held without spectators.
“We continue monitoring the local and global Covid-19 situation and are fully prepared to welcome spectators back to live events when it is safe to do so.”
On the plans to move UFC 254 to the Etihad Arena, which has yet to officially open, Al Shaiba said: “Our aim for 'Return to Fight Island' was to provide the best experience for UFC, fighters and personnel.
“Flash Forum has provided a fantastic home for the inaugural Fight Island in July and the current 'Return to Fight Island' series. It is fitting that we complete the series there with a memorable UFC 254.
“Etihad Arena will be the future home of UFC in Abu Dhabi. Any updates and announcements will be made in due course.”
Although the UFC has yet to confirm its return to Abu Dhabi, the promotion's president, Dana White, told The National last week that he was looking at February for the next Fight Island series.
White said also that he expected the capital to be first to welcome back spectators to live events. In response to the global pandemic, the UFC has not held an event with fans since UFC 248 in Las Vegas on March 7.