In tumultuous times, UFC President Dana White has managed to push the envelope for the sporting world during the COVID-19 crisis, including the securing of ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi where the UFC will host multiple events over the coming months.
With combat sports events drying up throughout these last months, the UFC has soldiered on and hosted a series of world-class match-ups. Even with the eeriness of empty stadiums, fans are still flocking to their screens to watch headline events, from Tony Ferguson vs Justin Gaethje to the recent Amanda Nunes vs Felicia Spencer matchup.
Controversy over the UFC’s decision to continue hosting events struck the organisation when Brazilian mixed martial artist Ronaldo Souza and his cornerman tested COVID-positive before a scheduled May 9 showdown against MMA veteran Uriah Hall at UFC 249.
This scare prompted the UFC to implement further measures designed to curb any potential COVID-19 issues, including the wearing of masks during weigh-ins and fight night, and on-screen post-fight interviews.
White’s decision to soldier on through the pandemic is undoubtedly costly, but he is adamant that maintaining momentum throughout these months will secure the organisation a leg-up as restrictions begin to ease.
With the UFC’s huge athlete roster, it was always probable that scheduled bouts would be delayed due to positive tests. Unlike team sports, a COVID-positive result need not disrupt an entire MMA event; fights can be cancelled if necessary with affected athletes and those who have come into contact with them isolated, while the rest of the card proceeds as planned.
As travel restrictions have left many international fighters— including lightweight champion and UFC megastar Khabib Nurmagomedov –unable to enter the US, the UFC is looking to host future bouts on ‘Fight’ Island— known officially as Yas Island –in the near future.
— danawhite (@danawhite) June 9, 2020
After Khabib’s falling through, Justin Gaethje stepped in on short notice to claim the upset victory over Nurmagomedov’s scheduled opponent Tony Ferguson at UFC 249.
Even with the long-anticipated Khabib vs. Tony matchup looking doubtful, ‘Fight’ Island nonetheless entertains the possibility of international athletes like Nurmagomedov returning to the Octagon in the near-future.
Yas Island is a popular leisure destination off Abu Dhabi’s coast, with numerous theme parks and attractions dotted around the 2500-hectare landmass. The island also features the Yas Marina Circuit which has been used by Abu Dhabi’s Formula One Grand Prix for years. The UFC’s new fighting hotspot has hosted some cards in the past, including UFC 242 where Khabib defeated seasoned veteran Dustin Poirier in the co-main event.
Only companies as resource-rich as the UFC could dream of closing off a section of an Abu Dhabi island, and fitting it with world-class facilities including a hotel, stadium, and training areas. Let alone during a global epidemic. “It’s f––king insane to even be trying to do this,” White admitted on fighting podcast ‘Talk the Talk’, but even so, in the midst of unforgiving circumstances, the UFC is getting the job done.
A sizable safety zone will be established on the island, surrounding its new infrastructure to ensure that strict safety guidelines are met. Only UFC fighters, trainers, and staff are able to enter the area.
A stacked July 11 card is set to christen the UFC’s new and improved Fight Island, including three title fights. Kamara Usman will be defending his welterweight title against Gilbert Burns, and Aussie featherweight Alexander Volkanovski looks to retain his championship in a hotly-anticipated rematch with Max Holloway. Jose Aldo and Petr Yan will also seek to battle it out for the bantamweight title, recently vacated by retired superstar Henry Cejudo.
Former middleweight champion and local favourite Robert Whittaker is set to return to the Octagon, facing tough competition in opponent Darren Till. The bout is set for July 26 on Fight Island.
Sunday, 12 July 2020 (AEST)
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Sunday, 26 July 2020 (AEST)