Khabib Nurmagomedov will make his long-awaited return to the octagon in Abu Dhabi, headlining a second Fight Island series that begins this month with the middleweight title bout between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa.
UFC president Dana White has confirmed the promotion's second residency in the capital following July's hugely successful inaugural Fight Island, with the upcoming run starting with UFC 253 on September 27 and concluding with UFC 254 on October 24. There will be five events in all held on Yas Island, with shows also taking place on October 4, 11 and 18.
The National understands the first four events will take place during their usual US time slot, with UFC 254 scheduled to begin at 6pm local UAE time. As of yet, local organisers have not confirmed Fight Island's return.
However, speaking early Wednesday following his latest Contender Series event, White was asked about the UFC’s upcoming programme, to which he responded: “We’re going to Fight Island. They all have these big plans on how we’re going to announce all this stuff. The Ultimate Fighter is coming back, too. I start filming that when I come back from Fight Island. We’ve got the Contender Series. Lots of things going on.”
Confirming the five events, White added: “[Contender Series goes] on hiatus, until I get back. I’ll be there the whole five weeks.”
Nurmagomedov's lightweight title unification bout against Justin Gaethje tops the bill at UFC 254, marking the first time the undefeated champion has competed since last September. That fight, a submission victory against Dustin Poirier, was also held in the emirate.
Nurmagomedov, who turns 32 later this month, is unbeaten in 28 professional mixed martial arts appearances, and is 12-0 in the UFC. Gaethje, meanwhile, is the interim belt-holder having defeated Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May. His record stands at 22-2 (UFC 5-2).
A match-up between Ferguson and Poirier is said to be in the works for UFC 254, too, which would catapult the event to most probably sit as the organisation’s standout show of 2020.
In what represents another considerable coup for Abu Dhabi, Fight Island 2 will house the next two UFC pay-per-view events, with the eagerly anticipated clash between middleweight champion Adesanya and Costa bringing up the curtain on the five-week series. Both athletes are undefeated: Adesanya stands at 19-0, while Costa, the No 2-ranked contender, is 13-0.
UFC 253 will also host a battle for the vacant light heavyweight title between Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz following Jon Jones' decision last month to give up his belt.
Another bout slated for UFC 254 is the middleweight match-up between Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier. Whittaker, the former middleweight champion and currently the division's No 1-ranked challenger, headlined the most recent event on Fight Island, where he defeated Darren Till on points.
The first Fight Island comprised four events and four title bouts, opening with UFC 251 on July 12 and running until July 26. Given public health guidelines, all shows were staged without fans in attendance. As of now, that remains the plan for Fight Island 2.
Designed initially to allow the UFC’s international athletes to compete during the coronavirus pandemic, Fight Island is considered an extension of the five-year partnership signed between Abu Dhabi and the UFC in April last year.