Kamaru Usman (right) reacts after winning the welterweight championship fight against Jorge Masvidal (unseen) at the Fight Island in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. Agence France-Presse
The opening night of UFC Fight Island inspired awe and excitement amongst fans and sporting organisations across the world, not only due to the sporting spectacle, but also for the ambitious yet seamless delivery of an international event in the midst of a global pandemic.
The action-packed UFC 251 card - which saw Petr Yan of Russia crowned bantamweight champion of the world, Australia’s Alex Volkanovski retain his featherweight belt and Nigeria’s Kamaru Usman retain his welterweight belt — had promised world-class fights from the start. However, the real story was outside the Octagon in the shape of the purpose-built 11km ‘safe zone’ on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
In just four weeks, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) created UFC Fight Island from the world-class facilities on Yas Island. Not only that, the safety measures were on ‘another level’ as UFC President Dana White described them.
Ahead of the first fight, more than 10,000 tests were conducted within the safe zone, with every individual in the zone having to take a COVID-19 test every 72hrs to ensure the area remained COVID-free. The safe zone, which is amongst the first ‘sporting bubbles’ in the world, will continue to house all UFC personnel and event staff for the remaining three Fight Nights, with only fighters entering and exiting the zone for their fights.
The concept on Yas Island also offers fighters opportunities to experience some of the world-class hospitality and tourism attractions Abu Dhabi has to offer, such as the iconic Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Links Golf Course, and Yas Beach.
Saeed Al Saeed, Destination Marketing Director for DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “It has been a massive undertaking from everyone involved to deliver UFC Fight Island, with many of us being away from our families for five weeks to ensure a safe and smooth event. But this goes to show our commitment as a city to hosting sports and tourists, as well as supporting and driving innovation in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are learning every day and feeding this into our plans for the coming months when our events calendar is usually busy. We now turn our attention to the ESPN Fight Night on Thursday morning, where it’s bound to be another incredible event for UFC fans and for Abu Dhabi.”
White, President of the UFC, has also been complimentary of Abu Dhabi in their work to host this monumental event: “The whole experience so far has been amazing. Ever since Fight Island was announced, we knew this could be the place to do it. The organisation has been on another level and the level of safety protocols put into place to ensure we could do this event has been unparalleled. When you come to do a live event, nobody does it like Abu Dhabi. Nobody.
“Everything’s been great. If I had to criticise anything that’s happened this week, so far I can’t. There’s not one thing I could point to that hasn’t been great and over the top, especially considering the circumstances and the amount of time we had to pull this off,” he added.
Headline fight Usman vs Masvidal saw Nigerian-American retain his Welterweight belt in a five-round thriller against MMA Fighter of the Year 2019.
Usman said: “I love Abu Dhabi; I love the UAE. I really wanted this fight and I’m happy it took place here. I’ve been here before and loved it and I was planning a vacation here before the pandemic hit. I’ll plan it again at a later date when it’s safe, but I’ll definitely be back.”
The back-to-back fight weekends signal Abu Dhabi’s readiness to revive international sport, with four fight events taking place over the course of two weeks. Boasting high levels of safety and sanitation, Yas Island provides the ideal environment to host world-class international sporting events in an innovative and safe environment. UFC Fight Island continues with successive ESPN Fight Nights to be held on Thursday, July 16 from 3am (UAE time) ; Sunday, July 19 from 1am (UAE time) and Sunday, July 26 from 1am (UAE time) local time.