Fight Island in Abu Dhabi 'one of the most important moments in UFC history'

UFC senior vice president David Shaw described the four-show series as 'absolutely a win'

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The UFC believe the inaugural Fight Island in Abu Dhabi will eventually be considered “one of the most important moments in the promotion’s history”, although it confirmed it is assessing other options to stage its international bouts this year.

The series concluded on Sunday with UFC Fight Night 3, bringing to a close four events across a two-week period at Flash Forum that began on July 12 with UFC 251. The complete operation, which took root in mid-June, was housed in an 11-kilometre safe zone on Yas Island, with upwards of 2,000 people on site. More than 17,000 Covid-19 tests were said to have been administered.

Fight Island was deemed an “extension” of the five-year deal signed between Abu Dhabi and the UFC in April last year.

Speaking following Sunday's final event, UFC senior vice president David Shaw described the concept as "absolutely a win".

"It was a great success," Shaw said. "When we look back at the Fight Island experience after five or 10 years, we are going to say this was one of the most important moments in the UFC's history.

“In my view this is one of the most progressive and ambitious endeavours we have ever undertaken. This will have a long-lasting impact not only for our brand, but for the sport. This is a pretty important catalyst that's going to help propel mixed martial arts in the region for many years to come.

“So great success all round. I believe our partners, the Department of Culture and Tourism, believe so as well. But overall, from [UFC president] Dana [White] all the way to our groups, everyone feels this was a massive success. It took a hell of a lot of work to get Fight Island together - many months of planning and execution - and we couldn’t have done it without our partners at the Abu Dhabi government."

The UFC will relocate back to its Las Vegas base until midway through September at least, with nine shows planned for next month and eight the following, including the Contender Series.

The promotion is tipped to return to Abu Dhabi in mid-September for UFC 253, which will most probably be headlined by middleweight champion Israel Adesanya against Paulo Costa. White told The National earlier this month that all the UFC's main international fights would take place in the capital for the foreseeable future - especially as the pandemic continues to affect major sport globally.


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However, asked on Sunday when the UFC would come back to Abu Dhabi, Shaw said: “It’s a really important question, and a question without an answer at this point. I think everyone’s aware we do need an opportunity to have some of the international athletes compete.

“Given the current state of the coronavirus in the US and many countries around the world, travel restrictions are not our friend. We’re going to continue to look at opportunities around the world. Perhaps it makes sense to come back, but we’re not resting our laurels on this as the only opportunity. There has to be other opportunities for us.

“You need a very committed and willing partner, you need a partner that is going to invest in the operational and the infrastructure to make it happen. As stringent and rigorous as the testing procedures are, those don’t exist everywhere, so we’ve got to make these decisions very carefully as we look to other options.

“But we’re going to continue to look for other options in 2020. It only makes sense because of the wealth of great talent that we’ve got all over the world.”

On why the UFC would consider moving away from Abu Dhabi given the success of Fight Island, Shaw said: “There’s a few things. An effective partnership has to have two groups that are committed and there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

"This isn’t a commentary on how far along we are on the process; this is just there’s a lot of heavy-lifting that needs to be done if we do want to replicate this. If we can do this several times a year, we would.

"This has been absolutely phenomenal and one of the best experiences any of us has ever had. So we’d absolutely want to come back at any point.”

Shaw said the UFC would seek to replicate in Las Vegas the safety provisions implemented in Abu Dhabi, while the capital would be considered frontrunner to host events with spectators in attendance, should the government permit that in future.