Excitement is building ahead of the inaugural UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi next month, with mixed martial arts fans eager to see how the historic fight festival is taking shape.
The National has been given an exclusive look at preparations for the four-event series on Yas Island, which clicks into gear with UFC 251 on July 12.
Boasting three title bouts, the opening fight night is followed by events on July 16, 19 and 26. Each show, taking place without fans in attendance because of existing public health guidelines, will be staged at Flash Forum.
Only the fighters, their coaches, UFC staff and those deemed essential to the event’s operation are allowed on site, a 25-kilometre “safe zone” encompassing the venue, Yas Plaza, W Hotel, Yas Beach and Yas Links. Extensive Covid-19 testing has already taken place and will continue throughout, with more than 2,000 tests carried out in the past week.
Announced earlier this month, Fight Island was created initially to allow the UFC's international fighters to compete during the coronavirus pandemic. It is considered an "extension" of the five-year partnership between the organisation and the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT-Abu Dhabi), which was confirmed in April last year.
UFC 251 is headlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman's match-up against Gilbert Burns, the division's No 1-ranked challenger. Also, Australia's Alexander Volkanovski defends his featherweight crown in his rematch with former champion Max Holloway, while Petr Yan faces Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight belt.
The July 19 event will feature another title fight, with Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez going up against one another for the vacant flyweight strap.
Abu Dhabi last hosted the UFC in September, when Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 242, also on Yas Island.