Abu Dhabi has been confirmed as host of the UFC’s historic Fight Island next month, in a groundbreaking collaboration with the world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion.
The fight festival, which will feature four fight nights beginning with the pay-per-view UFC 251 on July 11, will take place at an existing venue on Yas Island, with a specifically marked "safe zone" housing everyone connected to the event. Du Forum has been considered as host for the bouts.
UFC 251 is said to feature three championship bouts, according to UFC president Dana White, with the succeeding three events falling on July 15, 18 and 25. Given the restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, fans will not be able to attend.
Fight Island represents a major coup for Abu Dhabi, who last year signed a five-year partnership with the UFC. The first event in the agreement was staged in September, with the hugely successful UFC 242 headlined by undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The promotion is scheduled to return to the capital later this year, most likely in late October.
White said: “We came up with the idea of having fights on ‘Fight Island’ because we needed a destination to hold international events during the global pandemic. Abu Dhabi has been an amazing location to hold fights over the past 10 years and it is the perfect place for these events.
"The infrastructure we are building will be such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the fighters that’s never been done before - from the arena, the private training facility, and the octagon on the island - it’s going to be an experience that none of us will ever forget. I can’t wait to deliver amazing fights from Yas Island”.
White, who devised Fight Island in April to allow international fighters to compete during the coronavirus crisis, had kept secret the event's location. However, reports emerged at the weekend that Abu Dhabi could play host.
The UFC and the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) released a joint statement late on Tuesday to confirm their latest alliance.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Our partnership with the UFC, now in its second year, has proved to be one of our most successful ventures in recent years. Thanks to their commitment and cooperation, we are proud to announce that Abu Dhabi will host the first ever “Fight Island” event, marking the long-awaited return of UFC fights to the global stage.
“We have worked closely with all government entities in Abu Dhabi to ensure that the staging of this historic event complies with the highest standards of safety for the athletes, coaches, and all UFC personnel as well as the safety of our community.
“This year, Abu Dhabi has successfully proven its ability to handle all challenges and promote the well-being of its visitors and residents. And today, we are here to showcase the best that our capital has to offer, as we look forward to opening our doors once again to the world.”
In reference to UFC 251, White told ESPN's First Take on Tuesday that the main card will be headlined by a welterweight title bout between champion Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns. It will also include a featherweight title rematch pitting against one another belt-holder Alex Volkanovski and Max Holloway, who first fought in December, together with a clash between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight crown.
Earlier on Tuesday, Holloway tweeted an image of what appeared to be a signed contract, alongside the #FightIsland hashtag.
More details regarding the events will be announced in the coming days. DCT Abu Dhabi told The National that they expect to have more than 2,500 people staying on site during the event, but only those deemed essential to its operation. They anticipate fighters will arrive in Abu Dhabi towards the end of this month.