DUBAI: When UFC Fight Island took place at Du Forum in Abu Dhabi last July, it became the first international competition to attract athletes from around the globe following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was followed in late September by Fight Island 2, which proved equally successful and popular among fans and fighters alike.
So it is no surprise that the organizers - Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT), and UFC - have decided to kick off 2021 with Fight Island 3, taking place on Jan. 16, 20, and 24.
And this time fans will be allowed in to watch the action, which will climax with Conor McGregor taking on Dustin Poirier at UFC 257.
“The concept of fight Island was born out of COVID, it was born out of the need for live entertainment at a time when the whole world was at a standstill,” said Nour Al Harmoudi, UFC Associate project manager, DCT.
“Abu Dhabi was the perfect place to host Fight Island, it was not only remote but it was super safe. Abu Dhabi, in itself, was a safe zone bubble, because of the safety measure that they had decided to partake. So Fight Island came, and then Return to Fight Island was another huge success. So, it seems very natural to create a Fight Island triple-header while we are still in the pandemic.
“It doesn’t make sense to open up all the way for fans while the pandemic is still happening. So what we decided to do is open up for some fans during the triple-header week,” she added. “It was an easy decision to take but we had to take even stricter measures this time around.”
Al Harmoudi revealed that members of the media will have to test every 48 hours, and will quarantine for a similar period on arrival to Yas Island. The participants, too, will have to show a 48-hour valid negative PCR test upon entering.
“There will be thermal scanning, social distancing, we will have to avoid any type of congregation,” said Al Harmoudi.
“Even F and B will be ordered through an app. And as you know we will be hosting this at Etihad Arena, it will be the inaugural event there. The arena itself is 18,000-seater. It’s massive, however to abide by the COVID measures, to abide by the highest health and safety procedures and standards, we have only allowed 2,000 fans per event. That way we will have a more controlled environment and safer environment.”
No doubt, McGregor’s presence has already drummed up feverish interest in the event, with the 2,000 tickets offered snapped up within hours.
“It’s exciting to have McGregor here, it’s his debut in this region,” Al Harmoudi said.
“We’re so happy that it’s in Abu Dhabi and on Fight Island and triple-header week. This is the fruit that we have reaped out of the Abu Dhabi and UFC relationship, we’ve only had creme de la creme fighters. We’re always going to be bringing the best of the best athletes and fighters that the fans could ever ask for. So McGregor coming in has created a lot of excitement. And we’re again excited to see Dustin Poirier, who was here in Abu Dhabi in 2019.”
The return of fans to arenas is not only good news for UFC and Yas Island, but for all potential events taking place in the region this year, sporting or otherwise.
“The world is opening up slowly, even with the new COVID strain,” said Al Harmoudi.
“We are taking precautions, we are adhering to global standards of health and safety. We are trying our best to create these events in a safe setting, and to also host fans hungry for live events. To enjoy themselves and to enjoy the entertainment and performances of UFC or otherwise while they feel safe and comfortable, and without exposing them to any risk. We would love to host more fans but we have to see what the world has in store for us in 2021.”
In the early hours of Sunday Morning, the eyes of MMA fans will turn to the magnificent new Etihad Arena, which will be holding its first ever UFC event.
“Etihad arena is massive,” Al Harmoudi said. “It’s a state-of-the-art arena, it’s multi-purpose. It’s an 18,000-seater, so you can only imagine the crowds that will be at this arena when the world opens up. From entertainment, UFC, music concerts. It’s right by Yas Bay, it has a beautiful parking lot with a view of the Marina, and I think there is so much more yet to come for Etihad Arena that will blow everyone’s minds.”
Al Harmoudi is confident that, with the continuation of the partnership between DCT-Abu Dhabi and UFC, fight fans can expect a lot more in the coming months and years.
“UFC came to Abu Dhabi in 2019 and we had a five-year plan with them,” she said. “So whether or not Fight Island was going to happen, we were always going to see UFC on a yearly basis for the next five years. With Fight Island, this just strengthens the relationship between Abu Dhabi and UFC, it just really cements Abu Dhabi in terms of being the fighting capital of the world like Dana white has already said. Or the new home for the UFC in this region outside of Las Vegas. This is huge, and we’re really excited and really looking forward to even more fruitful partnerships with UFC. This is just the beginning.”