Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have created a 25-kilometre 'safe zone' on Yas Island
UFC president Dana White has described next month’s Fight Island as an “incredible thing we pulled off” while also praising hosts Abu Dhabi for their role in making the concept come to life.
The capital was last week confirmed as the location for the inaugural fight festival, which will feature four events across a two-week period on Yas Island. As of yet, the exact venue has not been announced.
Created primarily to allow international fighters to compete amid the coronavirus crisis, Fight Island kicks off with the pay-per-view UFC 251 on July 11, with shows to follow on July 15, 18 and 25. The opener will feature three title fights.
White reiterated the deal to stage Fight Island in Abu Dhabi is separate to the five-year agreement signed last year with the emirate, which guarantees world-title events to take place there annually. The UFC are slated to return to Abu Dhabi later this year, with October a provisional date.
Speaking to reporters this weekend at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, White said: “The guys in Abu Dhabi have always been great partners to us. They’re huge UFC fans, they love the sport. Obviously you guys know they’re huge jiu-jitsu fans.
“But in everybody that we dealt with trying to figure out a Fight Island, there were a lot concerns with the virus. We were looking for a place where we could bring people in from all over the world. And some parts of the world were worse than others in dealing with the virus. So it was tricky.
“But these guys are really smart guys, they’re very progressive guys, and they’re actually fun to deal with. So it worked out perfect.”
Asked if there were any challenges in putting on Fight Island, White added: “There were huge hurdles, massive hurdles. It took a long time to get this thing done and to get it dialled in. You can’t just call a place and say, ‘Hey, we want to come over and do fights’.
“We had to have a plan on how we could protect the people we’re bringing in and make sure it’s safe, and yet protect the citizens of Abu Dhabi too. So we had to do a lot of planning.”
UFC 251 will be headlined by welterweight champion Kamaru Usman’s title defence against Gilbert Burns, while featherweight belt-holder Alex Volkanovski will face Max Holloway for the second time. Also, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will clash for the vacant bantamweight crown. White said he’s close to announcing the cards for the other three events.
For Fight Island, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have created a 25-kilometre “safe zone” on Yas Island that will be open only to fighters and their camps, UFC staff and other personnel deemed necessary to the operation.
“It’s good,” White said. “It’s an incredible thing that we’ve pulled off. They have this thing called the safety zone. It’s 10 square miles where only we exist on the island, at the hotel, restaurants. Every fighter has their own private training facility. It’s going to be a unique experience. Very cool.”
White also explained the logistics involved that prevented the fights from taking place on the beach, as had been initially reported.
“First of all, the lighting grid – you couldn’t put the lighting grid on a beach,” he said. “You could try it; I don’t think it’s going to turn out very well.
“I’m always afraid of the elements: wind, rain, all the things that can happen. I like the comfort and safety of an arena. That’s what I’m into every single time we go out and do it. Pulling off what the fantasy of Fight Island was is pretty tough.”
Meanwhile, White confirmed Abu Dhabi was the frontrunner to stage the unification bout between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim title-holder Justin Gaethje later this year.