UFC Fight Island: Organisers say Abu Dhabi preparations 'in final stages'

Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi says no one 'in or out' of Yas Island from July 2

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Local organisers say preparations for next month’s UFC Fight Island are almost complete, with the Abu Dhabi operation ready to host the four-event series from the end of this week.

The inaugural fight festival, announced for Yas Island earlier this month, gets under way on July 12 with the pay-per-view UFC 251 and continues with shows on July 16, 19 and 26.

Flash Forum will stage all four events, and sits inside a specifically created 25-kilometre “safe zone” that will house everyone connected to the running of Fight Island.

More than 2,000 Covid-19 tests spanning three separate rounds have been administered to those involved who are based in the UAE, with the group quarantining on Yas Island for almost the past two weeks.

Fight Island will then welcome international delegates – fighters, UFC staff, etc - from July 4. They will also undergo extensive Covid-19 testing on site and a period of quarantine.

"We're in final stages of everything coming to fruition," Saeed Al Saeed, destination marketing director at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, told The National. "When the handover happens from the team currently working on the site for the UFC Fight Island 'bubble' on July 2, then Fight Island is basically secured - the barricades are up and no one's in or out.

"Then we’ll start receiving the first international guests that will also undergo their set of precautionary measures. So July 2, the island goes into lockdown fully, which means from then we’ll be completely prepared to host the UFC.”

Designed initially by the UFC to allow its international athletes to compete during the coronavirus pandemic, Fight Island marks the latest collaboration between DCT-Abu Dhabi and the world’s lead mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion.

The two parties signed a five-year agreement in April last year, with UFC 242 at The Arena last September marking the first event of the new arrangement.

“I think when [UFC president] Dana White was looking for an island, Abu Dhabi was a very easy choice,” Al Saaed said. “The government response to the Covid-19 pandemic made it the only destination that’s ready and prepared to host something like this, to create the safe zone, this bubble for Fight Island.

“So the collaboration is proving a successful one. We’re working very closely with the UFC to deliver the best experience for everyone involved. And the proof is the fight cards.”

I think when [UFC president] Dana White was looking for an island, Abu Dhabi was a very easy choice

Fight Island will feature four title bouts, including three on UFC 251 alone. Champion Kamaru Usman headlines in his title defence against No 1-ranked Gilbert Burns, while Alexander Volkanovski puts his featherweight crown on the line in a rematch with former champion Max Holloway. Also on the opening night, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo clash for the vacant bantamweight title.

Meanwhile, the flyweight title bout between and Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez tops the July 19 card.

“UFC 251 is a historic event,” Al Saeed said. “But it’s not just UFC 251 - even the fight nights around it have some contenders that could be the headline in any other numbered event. For example, Robert Whittaker versus Darren Till [July 26], or Kelvin Gastelum versus Jack Hermansson [July 19].”

Al Saeed added that, for Flash Forum, fans can “expect the same Abu Dhabi level of standard” as they did with The Arena at UFC 242. Next month’s venue includes catering halls, a media centre and a weigh-in tent.

Al Saaed said one of the greatest challenges local organisers face is the ever-evolving global response to the fight against Covid-19, but that DCT-Abu Dhabi has taken every precaution necessary to ensure the safe running of Fight Island.

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2019, file photo, Kamaru Usman poses during the ceremonial weigh-in event ahead of his fight against Colby Covington in UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The UFC revealed the location Tuesday, June 9, 2020, and announced a series of fan-free shows for Fight Island, in Abu Dhabi, starting with a card tentatively featuring three title fights at UFC 251 on July 11. The pay-per-view UFC 251 show is expected to be headlined by U.S. welterweight Kamaru Usman's title defense against Brazil's Gilbert Burns. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)

“This is currently the safest place in the world, bar none,” he said. “This is the first Covid-19-free bubble in the world, and we’re very proud to announce that’s coming out of Abu Dhabi.

“I can’t imagine anyone going to such extreme ends to make sure the people that are involved in a singular event are safe and taken care of. We have a rapid and organised response to anything that may come up. We have state-of-the-art medical facilities, all the precautionary measures in place to make sure nothing happens.

“Of course, I’d rather not mention any of this because it’s something we’re not even thinking we will have to deal with. But, if something does happen, you won’t be in a better place to be taken care of.”

Asked about the reaction since Abu Dhabi was confirmed on June 9 as Fight Island host, Al Saeed said: “Honestly, we’ve been overwhelmed. The global response has been great. People are excited, and it’s not just coverage from major outlets, but also a lot of conversation on social media.

“It just mirrors how excited we are to be part of this. The UFC fan base especially has been just as ecstatic to see this thing happening. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. So we’re very happy with the reaction.

“With this event, we’re proving to the sporting community there are destinations such as Abu Dhabi that are ready and prepared to resume what we’ve been missing, which is world-class sports events.”


UFC octagon built on Abu Dhabi beach

Yas Island pic posted by Dana White on Twitter