‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

The ring where the fighters will meet. (Photo/ UAE’s department of culture and tourism)
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Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.


Guardiola’s faith in Jesus bodes well for major clash

Updated 4 min 41 sec ago

Guardiola’s faith in Jesus bodes well for major clash

  • Brazilian player says he uses his compatriot Ronaldo as a benchmark

LONDON: The performance of Gabriel Jesus in Manchester City’s 2-1 Champions League victory over 13-time winners Real Madrid has given manager Pep Guardiola great heart as he seeks to end the club’s quest for the coveted crown.

The 23-year-old Brazilian made light of the absence of talismanic striker Sergio Aguero and followed up his impressive display in the last 16 first leg win by the same scoreline in Madrid with a match-winning contribution at the Etihad on Friday night.

Guardiola’s side face Lyon next Saturday in Lisbon in a one-off quarterfinal after the French side eliminated Juventus.

City with all their firepower might be seen as favorites but recent history suggests otherwise with Lyon having beaten them 2-1 in Manchester and then drawn 2-2 at home in last season’s Group stage.

The club’s record goalscorer Aguero — who was an unused substitute in the first leg back in February — is undergoing treatment for a knee injury in Barcelona.

Guardiola, though, feels that Jesus’s performances has given an extra pep in the team’s step after a disappointing defense of their Premier League title.

He believes with the confidence gained by Jesus in getting the better of the Spanish giants this can be a launching pad to at last triumph in a competition they have failed to shine in in the past despite the enormous investment by the Abu Dhabi owners. Their best showing is the 2016 semifinals under Guardiola’s predecessor Manuel Pellegrini.

“He’s (Jesus) the man of the match for these two games, he was decisive for us,” said Guardiola in the warm afterglow of the victory.

“He helped us when we suffered in the bad moments. He is the best guy in these situations.

“Gabriel always helps us through more than goals but for a striker it is important to score.

“Big players have to show in the biggest stages in the big games and he showed it twice against the kings of this competition.

“It was a big step forward for him to show: ‘Here I am, I can win games by myself.’”

Jesus, who has scored six Champions League goals this season, after netting four each in his previous two campaigns, says he uses his compatriot Ronaldo as a benchmark.

“His quality is different from me but I have to work to be a great striker,” Jesus told BT Sport.

The City manager is also emboldened ahead of the Lisbon trip with the assured display at the back — so often this season seen as thir Achilles heel. It is an area which Guardiola has invested in already bringing Dutch international center-back Nathan Ake to the club from relegated Bournemouth this week.

“The most important thing tonight was we didn’t make mistakes behind,” he said.

“We have suffered for that in this competition before.

“We were incredibly stable behind.”

Guardiola — who guided Barcelona twice to the Champions League trophy but failed to repeat the success with Bayern Munich — said beating Real is significant for everyone at the club but will count for little if they falter now.

“It is important,” he said.

“For Real Madrid to beat a big team in the last 16 is normal.

“For us, if we are going to be champions we have to beat these teams. “If we think that (beating Real) is enough we will show how small we are.

“We don’t have a lot of presence in Europe so it is so important for the club, for all the workers at the club and for our supporters.”

Guardiola, though, cautioned against taking Lyon lightly.

“I just spoke with the scouting department about Lyon and they told me to be alert,” said Guardiola.

“The big clubs lift the titles. Real Madrid reached the final three times in a row and this shows we can do it, but we have to see how we recover.

“Last season we played Lyon twice and we could not beat them. We have to be calm.”

The remainder of the competition will be played in Portugal with the semifinals scheduled for August 18/19 and the final on Aug. 23.