Action-thirsty MMA fans look ahead to Conor McGregor’s debut at UFC Fight Island 3 in Abu Dhabi

Action-thirsty MMA fans look ahead to Conor McGregor’s debut at UFC Fight Island 3 in Abu Dhabi
Conor McGregor (L) will take on Dustin Poirier (R) at UFC 257. (File images/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 14 January 2021

Action-thirsty MMA fans look ahead to Conor McGregor’s debut at UFC Fight Island 3 in Abu Dhabi

Action-thirsty MMA fans look ahead to Conor McGregor’s debut at UFC Fight Island 3 in Abu Dhabi
  • The triple-header event will take place at the new Etihad Arena on Yas Island
  • This time fans will be allowed in to watch the action, which will climax with Conor McGregor taking on Dustin Poirier at UFC 257

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.”


Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2021

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event

Saudi showjumpers ride high at Jeddah event
  • Elite riders saddle up for $34,600 National Guard Ministry cup at Jeddah Trio Ranch

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Guard Ministry’s showjumping cup competition kicked off on Thursday at the Jeddah Trio Ranch, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly and Dalma Malhas leading a top-class equestrian lineup.

With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day. About 130 horses were registered in the competition. The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.
Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade. Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.
“We have seven competitions under the names of seven ministries. After good international and Olympic results, support has doubled for equestrian sports, particularly showjumping,” a member of the SAEF technical committee, Ali Al-Sahli, told Arab News.
One rider, Naif Al-Sudairi, said that equestrianism in Saudi Arabia is making rapid advances on many levels.
“With Saudi Vision 2030, we now have more tournaments in all regions of the country, and the competition has heated up,” he told Arab News. “This can motivate the riders to improve and show our best in the run-up to international competitions.”
He added that he is looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia in the global equestrian events.

First day
In the small round on the first day of the competition, Khaled Al-Hady came first with 20 points. His horse, Doberlina Van de Kapel, came second with 18 points. Mohammed Hassan Al-Hadi was ranked third with 16 points, while Princess Al-Anoud Al-Saud secured fourth place with 14 points, and Waleed Al-Ghamdi was fifth with 12 points. Faisal Al-Ouda and Abdul Aziz Al-Hamazani came sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the medium class, Mohammed Al-Malki topped the ranking with 30 points followed by Khalid Al-Mobty, who collected 28 points. Badr Al-Fard came third with 26 points, and Abdullah Al-Sheikh was fourth with 24 points. Ahmed Bakarman came fifth with 22 points.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day.

• The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.

• Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade.

• Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.

Malhas, who secured an individual bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, after completing the round in 38 seconds without a single penalty, came ninth with 14 points. She is also the first Saudi female equestrian to take part in the individual hurdles at the 2018 World Equestrian Championship held in the US city of Tryon.


In the big round, Al-Sharbatly, who won the individual silver medal at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, came first with 40 points, followed by Abed Sanosy with 38 points. Fahad Al-Ghamdi was third with 36 points, while Badr Al-Fard was fourth with 34 points, and Talal Al-Juaid came fifth with 32 points. Sultan Al-Qarza’e and Khaled Al-Mobty came sixth and seventh, respectively.

Riders’ journey
Muneer Al-Ayoubi, who has been riding for over 20 years, told Arab News that showjumping requires understanding between rider and horse.
“I have been participating in showjumping (activities) for more than two years. It is the most difficult type of horse-riding activities,” he said. “Unlike horse racing and endurance riding, contestants have to keep training their horses. The rider and the horse should appear as if they were one soul.”
Arwa Mutabagani, owner and managing director of Jeddah Trio Ranch, said that they have riders of different levels from all over Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about the preparation to host the competition, Mutabagani said: “The horses arrive a couple of days before the competition, so we have to be ready. On-site, we have 150 horses participating, so we have different locations to host all these numbers. We made the warm-up arena ready for the riders to prepare their horses for the show.”
An Italian equestrian expert was brought in to handle the timing and ensure there are no complaints, she said. Mutabagani said that she is training a number of female riders to become champions. Family support is essential in this type of sport, she added.
“To reach a top position, dedication, family and team support, and sacrifices are all elements that should go together. You also have to have a good instructor, a good horse, and you have to have the right competition that can help you move to higher levels,” she said.
She mentioned her daughter, Dalma Malhas, as an example, saying: “When she was competing, she was young and spent weekends at the shows and not with her peers. So, you have to sacrifice being a normal teenager to reach the top.”
Meanwhile, Mohrah Faisal, a female equestrian who took part in the small round, said that she is grateful to SAEF for supporting female riders. “We did not have such an opportunity in the past. Now I hope I can represent the Kingdom at the Olympics.”
She said that her family believed in her passion for equestrianism once they saw her succeeding in many local competitions.
Wafa Hasson, another Saudi female rider, said she competed in the UAE two years ago after SAEF gave women riders the green light, which helped them improve.
Female riders are still looking for opportunities to learn. “I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really have a limit, I just want to see what I can achieve and I will do my best to achieve it.”
Ghalia Al-Musa, another participant, said that she has been riding for 13 years, and her mother is still her biggest supporter.
“SAEF allowed female riders to compete along with male riders in 2019, and it was good news for all female riders. In the same year, SAEF selected the best female riders to represent Saudi Arabia in the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah, UAE. We came second as a team and I came fourth as an individual,” she told Arab News.
Al-Musa also hopes to represent Saudi Arabia in international events, including the Olympics.
Heavy rain in Jeddah on Friday forced the organizing committee of the National Guard showjumping cup to combine the second and third day of competition on Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) when the competition will come  to an end.