UFC 251 historic success strengthens Abu Dhabi’s position on world map - GulfToday

UFC 251 historic success strengthens Abu Dhabi’s position on world map


A view of the cage in Abu Dhabi.

Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor

At a time when the coronavirus outbreak has decimated the world’s sporting calendar and affected some of 2020’s biggest events, the historic success of UFC 251 at Fight Island in Yas Island has further strengthened Abu Dhabi’s position on the global sports map.

The inaugural four-event series is designed to allow UFC’s international athletes to compete during the coronavirus pandemic and is being held at Fight Island in the Capital. It opened on July 12 with UFC 251, and will end on July 26.

The tremendous success of the first three events at Fight Island is likely to pave the way to stage more high-profile events in the future, and could possibly ensure the Etihad Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place as well in December.

The concept of Fight Island also paid rich dividends as UFC 251 reportedly secured 900,000 pay-per-view buys in the US and that the Yas Island show secured $77,988,000 million (£62.3 million) in television revenue.

The Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) has a five-year agreement with UFC, which guarantees world-title events takes place there annually. UFC Fight Island is in addition to that deal, and this year’s fight will likely take place in October.

When UFC president Dana White said in April that he was close to securing a ‘private island’ to host events, naysayers mocked the idea and rejected the talks as fake.

Following the announcement, two months later Abu Dhabi made it a reality and achieved the unimaginable as DCT Abu Dhabi created UFC Fight Island from the world-class facilities on Yas Island.

Six square miles of Yas Island was created into a safe zone, where around 2,000 people are staying, which includes all athletes and staff.

More than 12,000 tests were conducted within the 25-kilometre safe zone, which is amongst the first ‘sporting bubbles’ in the world as the UFC personnel and event staff undergo tests every 72 hours.

Inspired by the UFC 251’s success, a lot of sporting organisations from across the world have approached DCT to host their events in the Capital in the near future.

Speaking to the Gulf Today, Saeed Al Saeed, Destination Marketing Director at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT), confirmed that organisers from the different countries have contacted them to have their events staged in the Emirate.

Refusing to divulge the names, Saeed said: “We are in talks and a lot of things are in the pipeline.

“The global response to the success of UFC 251 and the feedback we have received is overwhelming. It just mirrors what Abu Dhabi has to offer to the world. Our mission is to learn from this event so that we may start the journey of welcoming back international tourists and hosting events with spectators. Abu Dhabi has demonstrated significant expertise as far as hosting major sporting events in the past, but during these challenging times, we have successfully proven the Emirate’s ability to handle all challenges and promote the well-being of its visitors and residents.”

Terming the arrangements made by Abu Dhabi as second to none, the awe-struck White said the UAE’s capital would host all the major upcoming bouts.

“People thought this Fight Island thing was three or four fights and that’s a wrap,” said White. “That’s not true – we’re here to stay. As far as trying to find another venue outside of the US, it isn’t happening. Why would I go anywhere other than Abu Dhabi? Abu Dhabi could end up becoming the fight capital of the world… it’s definitely not Las Vegas right now.

“We are going to do a lot of fights over here,” he promised. DCT Abu Dhabi is incredible to work with; I literally could not say enough good things about this partnership. Literally everything has been perfect. When you look at what we’re dealing with and the circumstances going on, there’s nowhere else… These guys are the best at what they do. Nobody does it like Abu Dhabi.”

Predicting Abu Dhabi might become ‘fight capital of the World’, White told the media that: “UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will lock horns with American Justin Gaethje when the UFC returns to hit Abu Dhabi”.

Recently, putting all speculations to rest, Ali Abdelaziz, who manages both Khabib and Justin (Gaethje), said the undefeated world champion will return to the ring and has not retired following the death of his father and coach Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov.

“We are committed to our agreement with UFC and will support Dana and his team where possible to ensure the sport can continue safely during Covid-19. We believe we’ve achieved that with our dedicated UFC Fight Island ‘safe zone’ on Yas Island, which aims to deliver a safe event for all,” Saeed added.

“We have worked closely with more than 20 government entities in Abu Dhabi to ensure that the staging of this historic event complies with the highest standards of safety for the athletes, coaches, and all UFC personnel as well as the safety of our community.”

In 2019, UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi entered into a ground-breaking five-year partnership to bring UFC events to the emirate.

UFC 242 headlined Khabib vs Justin Poirier bout.

Khabib successfully defended his title against Poirier, and the event attracted more than 14,000 fans to Yas Island.

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