Abu Dhabi raising the bar for sporting events as Fight Island 2.0 kicks off on Saturday

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Dominick Reyes checks in for the Return to UFC Fight Island. (UFC)
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New Zealand's Kai Kara France receives his safety briefing affter arriving on UFC Fight Island. (UFC)
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UFC 253 fighter Israel Adesanya adheres to the health safety protocols on UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. (UFC)
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Updated 24 September 2020

Abu Dhabi raising the bar for sporting events as Fight Island 2.0 kicks off on Saturday

  • The five-event series will include UFC 253, three Fight Nights and concludes with UFC 254
  • The UAE capital is also hosting cricket’s IPL and final Formula 1 race of the 2020 season

DUBAI: Dana White’s tweet had summed it up.

“They’re light years ahead of everybody else in what’s going on with COVID, so it really was the perfect partnership,” the president of UFC said of Abu Dhabi’s hosting of the just concluded Fight Island.

The event, which took place on Yas Island between July 12 and 26 and included UFC 251 and three Fight Nights, was the first international sporting event to take place following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This event specifically was one of the most important signals for the world about Abu Dhabi’s readiness,” said Saeed Al Saeed, Destination Marketing Director at the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), Abu Dhabi. “Not just to hold world class sports at the highest possible level, but also to highlight a destination that has the highest possible hospitality and standards, while taking into consideration that our priority is always the health and safety of everyone involved. So, you get five-star services, five-star food and complimentary offerings and we also make sure that you can go out in peace knowing that we have done, following our government’s lead, the most that we could to ensure that your health and safety remains at heart.

The event, thanks to a safety zone and a meticulous program of testing, had passed with no incidents, prompting White’s gushing words.

“If you look at Abu Dhabi specifically, and the UAE in general, we have done more testing than anyone else in the world per capita,” Al Saeed added. “We conducted 18,000 Covid tests in a matter of a month, for two thousand people. Our readiness, our ability to host, our ability to welcome guests, that meant a lot to us to get through as a message from Fight Island 1.0.”

Now UFC Fight Island 2.0 will once again see some of the biggest names in the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization involved in the UAE capital, with the five-event series - including UFC 253, three Fight Nights, and UFC 254 - set to take place on Yas Island from Sept. 27 to Oct. 25.

Among the highlights will be the match-up between Brazilian fighter Paulo Costa and opponent Israel Adesanya. The two surprisingly traded in some good natured back and forth at the W Hotel, inside the UFC Fight Island safe zone on Yas Island, ahead of their UFC 253 middleweight clash on Saturday.

Sporting black face masks on their arrival, the pair were joined by Jan Blachowicz and Dominick Reyes, who go head-to-head in the co-main event light heavyweight bout on the same event card.

The second edition of Fight Island, coming so soon after the first, has taken organizational and logistical efforts to new levels according to Al Saeed.


Video courtesy of UFC

“That’s what Abu Dhabi does, we did something and we’re going to do it again and it has to be bigger and better,” he said. “With the current circumstances, that was always going to be a difficult thing, when you’ve had an event that was the third highest paid in UFC history, followed by three really stacked Fight Nights, how can you top that? This time around we had to make sure we go big. You have UFC 253 with Adesanya and Costa, two undefeated fighters. We’re going to see a first loss for one of them at least, followed by three Fight Nights again with really packed cards, like Chan v Ortega.”

But one event, above all others has captured the attention of fight fans across the world.

“So how can we even top that (UFC 253)?” Al Saeed said. “UFC 254, Khabib (Nurmagomedov) comes back. Khabib v Justin Gaethje is going to headline week after week of non-stop action for all fight fans and all sports fans in general.”

Other athletes touching down on Yas Island include Ketlen Vieira, Kai-Kara France, Juan Espino, and Hakeem Dawodu. As part of the strict public health and safety protocols, the fighters were given a safety briefing before undertaking a 48-hour self-quarantine in their hotel rooms.

The UFC events have come at a time when another major sporting event, cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has kicked off in Abu Dhabi, and is also taking place in Dubai and Sharjah. Hosting some of the world’s best cricketers, and the sheer size of the teams, has brought a whole new challenge for Al Saeed and his colleagues.

“It’s definitely different, but this ties shack to our relationships with all of these organizers, and them trusting Abu Dhabi as a destination that will deliver,” he said. “It’s definitely more complicated when it comes to cricket. For us in Fight Island, yes we have a huge number of fights and there are a lot of moving parts, but at the end of the day you have an athlete and maybe three or four core members of his team. But when you talk about cricket you can have a whole hotel for just one team. So the logistics involved are on another level. We did a complete bubble, so there was no one coming in or out of the safe zone, and that was first of kind for us. And now we have Formula 1 coming too in December.”

The truncated 2020 Formula 1 season will once again finish at Yas Marina Circuit, and that, once again, brings a whole new set of parameters for the organizers as the drivers and army of mechanics and managers of Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and the rest return to Abu Dhabi. 

Each one of these sports has its own complexities,” Al Saeed said. “And you know what, good luck to all the teams involved. We have my team, the teams we work with, the department of health, the police, the authorities, the airports, Etihad Airways, all of these different moving parts are across all of these projects. 

“So you know that logistically speaking, Abu Dhabi can handle it, but it does get complicated with so many people and so many things that need to happen,” he added. “We have to entertain those guys, last time we had a golf course dedicated to them, they could drive karts around the formula one course. This time we have a beach for them, and we have to feed them the best food, so imagine that for a bunch of cricket teams.”

One thing Al Saeed can promise IPL’s cricketers, UFC’s fighters and Formula 1’s drivers is that their stay in the UAE will be memorable.

“They can’t come to Abu Dhabi and be bored,” he said. “They’ve got to enjoy being here so they can tell their friends about it, they can come back again. All of those people from Fight Island are really excited to be back, they’ve been arriving and have been welcomed to their hotel rooms. And you can see it all on social media, they are all excited.”

‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

Updated 6 min 25 sec ago

‘Loved and appreciated’ Bale starts as Spurs win, Celtic undone by Milan

PARIS: Gareth Bale said it felt good to be “loved and appreciated” after helping Tottenham to a 3-0 win over LASK of Austria in the Europa League on Thursday.
The Welsh international started his first match since his return from Real Madrid and played for an hour before Jose Mourinho gave him a break.
Bale had come on as a substitute last Sunday with Tottenham 3-0 up against West Ham before his team collapsed to give up a 3-3 draw.
“It is amazing to be back,” Bale told BT Sport on Thursday.
“It is a big reason why I play well and why I came back. You want to be loved and appreciated. I will give everything for this shirt.”
However, he admitted it will take time to find his feet.
“I am a bit stiff. It is like a mini pre-season for me and I am trying to get minutes into the legs,” he said.
Despite Bale starting, it was on-loan Carlos Vinicius who made an impressive debut in the Group J opener.
Vinicius started in place of the resting Harry Kane and he made goals in either half for Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min, while he would have also netted himself had Andres Andrade not scored an own goal.
Bale made that goal where Andrade put through his own net.
Leicester made the perfect start in Group G with a comfortable 3-0 win over Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine.
James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Kelechi Iheanacho were on the scoresheet.
In Glasgow, Celtic struggled against Serie A leaders AC Milan who were 2-0 up at half-time thanks to goals from Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz.
Mohamed Elyounoussi reduced the arrears after the break, but Jens Petter Hauge broke clear to secure Milan’s Group H 3-1 win in stoppage time.
Milan were so comfortable that they could afford to take off Zlatan Ibrahimovic just after the hour.
Earlier Thursday, Arsenal came from behind to down Rapid Vienna 2-1 and Rangers beat Standard Liege 2-0.
After a goalless first half Arsenal went behind when keeper Bernd Leno fluffed a clearance on a night he will want to forget.
Taxiarchis Fountas capitalized on Leno’s clanger, much to the joy of the 3,000 home fans allowed in to watch under coronavirus safety protocol, but the Gunners then turned the game around in four second half minutes.
David Luiz put them level with a deft glancing header off Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang then tapping home to bag the three Group B points.
It was an eventful night for Mikel Arteta’s side.
Alongside eight yellow cards, there was an eye-catching display from Thomas Partey on his first start since his transfer deadline day move from Atletico Madrid.
A frustrated follower of the game from his London sofa was Mesut Ozil, who has been left out of both Arsenal’s Europa League and Premier League squad.
“When I can’t support on the pitch tonight, I will support in front of the TV in London.” tweeted Ozil.
The other Group B game was being played out in Dublin where Dundalk, only Ireland’s third ever representative in the group stage, were beaten 2-1 by Norwegians Molde.
In Belgium, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers took on Standard Liege fresh from their Old Firm derby win over Celtic which moved them four points clear in the Scottish Premiership last weekend.
James Tavernier scored from the spot after Noe Dussenne handled in the area to put them into a 19th minute lead.
Then three minutes into stoppage time Kemar Roofe produced a wonder goal from the halfway line, the ball flying over the head of bewildered keeper Arnaud Bodart.
Benfica had claimed the first goal of the night and they went on to beat Lech Poznan in Poland 4-2 in the other Group D game.
Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen ran riot 6-2 against French side Nice and Spanish side Granada, in their first ever European campaign, beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1.