UFC debuts ‘Fight Island’ concept in Abu Dhabi

The 'fight island' concept envisioned by UFC boss, Dana White, finally debuts in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Fighters will be quarantined before the fights, which will take place on fight island, to ensure safety protocols are followed and fighters remain free of coronavirus. The innovation and quick thinking has been appraised by fans of UFC all over the globe and may become a precedent for sports amid a global pandemic.

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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 infrastructureā€™s being built right now, and thatā€™s really going to happen.”

Unveiling of Fight Island

Whiteā€™s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabiā€™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.

Itā€™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 heā€™d seen since arriving in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defence 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.”

Fighting while effectively quarantining on ‘Fight Island’

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 promoterā€™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 worldā€™s major sporting events.

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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.

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“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 SantosĀ 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.”

‘Safe zone’: UAE the new hub for sporting events?

So far the United Arab Emirates has recorded more than 53,500 coronavirus cases with 328 deaths.

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.

“It’s not easy to host a global international mega event such as a UFC fight during these circumstances where everybody is under lockdown and travel restrictions are in place. But we make things happen,” he told.

Abu Dhabi, which signed a five-year contract with the UFC, has a rich history when it comes to martial arts, hosting lucrative jiu-jitsu events, a sport that is a major component of MMA which has exploded in popularity over the past decade.

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For now, Fight Island is a “one-off” said Shaiba, but he added that the emirate has been approached by other sports entities who want to hold events in the “bubble” format.

The other world title fights Sunday see Australiaā€™s Alexander Volkanovski Ā put his featherweight title on the line in a rematch against the former champ in Hawaiiā€™s Max Holloway, while Russian tearaway Petr Yan faces veteran Brazilian Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight belt.

In women’s action, two former strawweight champs in Brazilā€™s Jessica Andrade and American Rose Namajunas will face off, with the winner expected to go on to face Chinaā€™s reigning champion, Zhang Weili.

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Masvidal 35, has been at loggerheads with the organisation over pay rates and revenue sharing, and took up the offer of the title fight on just six days notice.

“I try not to get too involved in the moment because I might get overwhelmed,” he said of the buzz around the event. “I just keep reminding myself no matter how cool this is, it is just a fight. If it was here, England, Mars, Saturn. Iā€™m just here to fight.”

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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