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)
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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.”


Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community

Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community
Updated 16 January 2021

Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community

Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community
  • The New York Jets’ new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the US
  • The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in Detroit

NEW YORK: Robert Saleh has made history that extends far beyond any football field.
The New York Jets’ new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the country, celebrating the first known Muslim American to hold that position in the NFL.
That’s a source of great pride for a group that has been generally underrepresented in the league’s on-field leadership roles.
“It’s something that shows the growing diversity of our nation, the inclusion we’re trying to achieve at all levels of our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “And I think it’s a very positive sign.”
The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States per capita.
“I think he’s just a trailblazer for a lot of coaches who are Muslim, to let them know that they do have a chance to be a head coach,” said Lions offensive lineman Oday Aboushi, a practicing Muslim who has played in the NFL for eight seasons — including his first two with the Jets.
“He shows them you do have a chance to be a defensive coordinator, you do have a chance to grow up and have a job at the professional level,” Aboushi added. “As long as you’re professional and you’re passionate about it like he is, I think a lot of people will look to him as a trailblazer, as far as everyone feeling like they could do it themselves and it’s an attainable dream.”
After Saleh’s college playing career as a tight end at Northern Michigan ended, he got his start in coaching by working as an assistant at Michigan State, Central Michigan and Georgia before being hired as a defensive intern by the Houston Texans in 2005.
Then came stints with Seattle and Jacksonville before Saleh became San Francisco’s defensive coordinator in 2017, helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl last year with his No. 2-ranked unit. He was a popular candidate among the seven teams looking for a new coach this offseason, and quickly emerged as the favorite for the Jets job.
Saleh, known for his energy on the sideline and being well-liked by players, impressed the Jets during his first remote interview. He was flown in a few days later for an in-person meeting with Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas at the team’s facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
After a two-day visit, Saleh left to meet with Philadelphia for its coaching vacancy — but the Jets knew they found their new coach. The team announced Thursday night the sides reached an agreement in principle.
“As a pioneer in the sports world, Saleh will serve as an inspiration to many young American Muslims,” Selaedin Maksut, the executive director of CAIR’s New Jersey chapter, said in email to The Associated Press. “In addition to the positive impact that he’ll have on Muslims, Saleh’s presence in the field and on the screen will remind the rest of America that Muslims are a part of the fabric of this nation and proudly contribute to society. It’s a step toward tearing down walls and building bridges.
“Welcome to Jersey, brother!”
Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of CAIR’s New York chapter, congratulated the Jets and Saleh for what he called a “historic hiring in the National Football League.” He’s optimistic it’s a sign of increasing inclusion and recognition of the Muslim community.
“For all the Muslim youth who may be told they don’t belong or can’t do something because of how they pray, we hope that when they see Mr. Saleh on national television, they will say to themselves that anything is possible and will reach for the stars,” Mohamed said in an email to the AP. “We hope Mr. Saleh’s hiring opens the door for other American Muslims in sports.”
Saleh is believed to be the third Arab American to become a head coach in the NFL. He follows Abe Gibron, who led Chicago from 1972-74, and Rich Kotite, who coached the Eagles (1991-94) and Jets (1995-96) — both of whom also had Lebanese roots.
Saleh is also just the fourth active NFL head coach who is a minority, joining Miami’s Brian Flores, Washington’s Ron Rivera and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
“Robert Saleh has made history on the field and off,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday night. “Now he’s knocking down barriers in our own backyard. Congrats, Coach!”
While Saleh’s focus will be on restoring the Jets to respectability and not necessarily being an inspiration, he has provided a path for others to someday follow.
“Any person in a new job, their first goal is going to be performance in their job,” Hooper said. “But I think a secondary consideration might be being an example to Muslim and Arab American youth around the country, that this kind of inclusion and respect for diversity is possible.
“But I don’t think he got the job because of his ethnic or religious background. He got this job because he’s good at what he does.”