The UFC returns to Abu Dhabi next month, but not like we have seen before. The capital will host the inaugural Fight Island, a series of events taking place at one location across a two-week period, with the opener boasting one of the best cards of the year. Here are the details.
What is it?
First things first: the UFC have never produced a Fight Island before. In fact, this will most likely be a one-off. Faced with not being able to stage fights because of the coronavirus crisis, and then with subsequent travel restrictions impacting the United States and countries across the world, the promotion created the concept to allow their international athletes to compete. So Fight Island was born.
Its location has been a closely guarded secret, but last week Abu Dhabi was confirmed as hosts of the historic fight festival. It will comprise four events: July 12, 16, 19 and 26.
The first in the series will be UFC 251, a stacked, pay-per-view event featuring three title fights. The other three events each run under the "UFC Fight Night” banner.
Why Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi had already a close relationship with the UFC, but that was strengthened last year when it signed a five-year deal with the promotion. Under the agreement, the UFC agreed to put on one major event annually, as first seen with UFC 242 last September. Fight Island is viewed an "extension" of that existing relationship, and therefore doesn't impact the UFC's return to the emirate later this year - most probably in October.
When is it?
Friday, July 10: Weigh-ins from 7pm
Sunday, July 12: Early prelims live from 2am, prelims live from 4am, main card live from 6am
UFC Fight Nights
- UFC Fight Night - July 16. Event begins at 3am, with the main card kicking off at 6am.
- UFC Fight Night - July 19. Event begins at 2am, with the main card kicking off at 5am.
- UFC Fight Night - July 26. Event begins at 5am, with the main card kicking off at 8am.
Where is it?
Flash Forum will house all four events. The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have created a 25-kilometre "safe zone" on Yas Island that will be open only to fighters, coaches, UFC staff and other personnel deemed necessary to the operation. DCT-Abu Dhabi told The National they expect there will be more than 2,500 people on site for the duration of Fight Island.
UFC makes successful return to Abu Dhabi with UFC 242
Who is fighting?
The main card for UFC 251 is headlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman's title defence against Jorge Masvidal, who was an 11th-hour replacement for Gilbert Burns. Born in Nigeria, Usman has never been defeated in 11 UFC appearances, with a professional mixed martial arts record of 16-1. He captured the welterweight crown in March last year when he defeated Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision. Usman last fought in December, defending his title against Colby Covington.
Masvidal, meanwhile, stepped in for Burns earlier this week after the Brazilian tested positive for Covid-19 before leaving for the UAE. One of the sport's most popular fighters, Masvidal is a veritable veteran, with 35 victories and 13 defeats in his pro career. The American last fought in November, when he saw off Nate Diaz by TKO to claim the one-off "BMF" crown. With three wins in all through 2019, including a record-breaking, five-second knockout of Ben Askren, Masvidal was widely recognised as fighter of the year.
Elsewhere, featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway will go head-to-head for the second time in a rematch of their December clash. Australian Volkanovski won the original bout by unanimous decision to take Holloway’s title.
Rounding out the title fights, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will face off for the vacant bantamweight crown following champion Henry Cejudo's decision to retire last month.
UFC 251's main card is completed by the highly anticipated rematch between former strawweight champions Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade, who first met in May last year, and the match-up at flyweight between Amanda Ribas and Paige Vanzant.
The fourth title bout on Fight Island pits No 1- and No 2-ranked flyweights Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez for the vacant flyweight title in the main event on July 18. Figueiredo knocked out Benavidez in the second round of their first meeting in February, but he missed weight and the match was downgraded to a non-title fight.
The full cards for all four Fight Island events are listed below, although they are subject to change.
UFC 251, July 12
Kamaru Usman v Jorge Masvidal - welterweight title bout
Alexander Volkanovski v Max Holloway - featherweight title bout
Petr Yan v Jose Aldo - bantamweight title bout
Jessica Andrade v Rose Namajunas
Amanda Ribas v Paige VanZant
Volkan Oezdemir v Jiri Prochazka
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos v Muslim Salikhov
Makwan Amirkhani v Dan Henry
Leonardo Santos v Roman Bogatov
Marcin Tybura v Alexander Romanov
Raulian Paiva v Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Karol Rosa v Vanessa Melo
Martin Day v Davey Grant
UFC Fight Night, July 16
Calvin Kattar v Dan Ige
Frankie Edgar v Pedro Munhoz
Carla Esparza v Marina Rodriguez
Abdul Razak Alhassan v Mounir Lazzez
Jared Gordon v Chris Fishgold
Modestas Bukauskas v Vinicius Moreira
Molly McCann v Taila Santos
Ricardo Ramos v Lerone Murphy
John Phillips v Dusko Todorovic
Tim Elliott v Ryan Benoit
Diana Belbita v Liana Jojua
UFC Fight Night July 19
Deiveson Figueiredo v Joseph Benavidez - flyweight title bout
Jack Hermansson v Kelvin Gastelum
Marc Diakiese v Rafael Fiziev
Ariane Lipski v Luana Carolina
Alexandre Pantoja v Askar Askarov
Roman Dolidze v Khakis Ibragimov
Grant Dawson v Nad Narimani
Joe Duffy v Joel Alvarez
Brett Johns v Montel Jackson
Tagir Ulanbekov v Alexander Doskalchuk
Davi Ramos v Arman Tsarukyan
Carlos Felipe v Sergei Spivac
UFC Fight Night, July 26
Robert Whittaker v Darren Till
Shogun Rua v Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Alex Oliveira v Peter Sobotta
Fabricio Werdum v Alexander Gustafsson
Danny Roberts v Nicolas Dalby
Tom Aspinall v Jake Collier
Justin Tafa v Raphael Pessoa
Movsar Evloev v Mike Grundy
Bethe Correia v Pannie Kianzad
Nathaniel Wood v Umar Nurmagomedov
Ramazan Emeev v Shavkat Rakhmonov
How to watch in UAE
Fight fans can watch the action through the UFC Arabia app.