Everything you need to know about UFC returning to Abu Dhabi for Fight Island – Sport360 News

As sport gradually makes it way back into the consciousness of fans across the globe, eyes will be firmly fixed on Abu Dhabi next month as the UFC returns to the UAE capital with a two-week fight bonanza.

The world’s premier MMA promotion finally revealed the location for the much-hyped Fight Island on Tuesday and while it’s not quite the isolated Caribbean sunspot many anticipated, the plans for Abu Dhabi are just as impressive.

A dedicated ‘safe zone’ will see fighters, coaches and UFC staff housed on Yas Island from the end of June through four events kicking off with UFC 251 on July 11 before three Fight Night cards on July 15, 18 and 25.

Strict measures will be enforced on Yas with features such as the arena (likely to be the Du Forum), hotels, training facilities and restaurants exclusive to everyone involved with the events.

A blockbuster UFC 251 card will be headlined by a welterweight title fight between champion Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns, plus two more title fights in the form of a featherweight rematch between defending champ Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway and a a scrap for the vacant bantamweight belt between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo.

And according to HE Ali Al Shaiba, Executive Director of Tourism and Marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), Fight Island will serve as an expansion of the current five-year deal with the UFC, meaning the promotion will be back in either September or October as initially slated.

“We have a five-year deal to host a world championship fight in Abu Dhabi, so the hosting of Fight Island is just an expansion of this existing deal with the UFC,” Shaiba told Sport360.

“Fans can expect another UFC event in Abu Dhabi in the future. The establishment of Fight Island is a great celebration of the partnership between the UFC and Abu Dhabi.

“We look forward to other initiatives that will come from this partnership.”

When the promotion returned to Abu Dhabi last September, the UFC 242 prelims kicked off at 18:30 local time but with no fans in attendance this time around, the events will likely be catered toward north-American audiences.

“Final timings have not been confirmed but I think we will have it as the same timing as the US schedule as we are not expecting any fans or spectators to attend,” Shaiba explained.

“We will go with the broadcast timings that meet the needs of the premier time for the US market.”

Travel restrictions into the capital are set to be eased later this month with the Abu Dhabi DCT working closely with regulatory authorities to ensure the safe transportation into the UAE without interruption for fighters and the like.

While the climbing temperatures in the UAE will mean UFC president Dana White’s bold proclamations of a beachside Octagon won’t quite be reality – although a training Octagon will be situated on the sand – Shaiba insists the heat won’t be an issue.

He said: “I saw the Octagon pictures on the beach, we have all seen this, and everyone is excited to see this but the reality is the event will be hosted in an existing arena that is covered on Yas Island.”

He added: “We have around 2,500 personnel working on this project for us, so for us it was really crucial to be mindful of the current circumstances in every step of the way to make sure everyone is involved is as safe and comfortable as possible.”

Naturally, Fight Island will serve as a beacon to the rest of the world that Abu Dhabi is opening for business again after strict restrictions were put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Negotiations with the UFC have taken place over the last two months, with Shaiba adamant the success of UFC 242 played a big role in the promotion seeking out Abu Dhabi as a destination to hold international events.

“If UFC 242 wasn’t a success story then the UFC wouldn’t have come back to us asking to host Fight Island,” he said.

“We saw fans coming out of the arena that night very happy and satisfied despite the temperature at that time and some of the issues with that in the arena. The arena was built purposefully for that event and it was done so in a very short timeline.

“I think with the new Etihad Arena is going to open hopefully by Q4 so we will be in good shape to ensure a better experience for our fans and ensure for future events they will have the world’s best experience for watching UFC.”

And UFC president Dana White echoed those sentiments.

“Abu Dhabi has been an amazing location to hold fights over the past 10 years and it is the perfect place for these events,” he said via Facebook live on the UFC’s page.

“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.”

He added: “Everything will happen on the island. Nobody will leave the island. They’re going to have their own private training quarters where people can train themselves.

“We really do have an Octagon [for training] out in the sand. The infrastructure’s going to be unbelievable.

“The people in Abu Dhabi do everything right.”

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