UFC Fight Is­land shows Abu Dhabi is open for busi­ness

UFC 251 and 3 other fight nights first and big­gest post-Covid-19 in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events

Arab News - - Sport News - Ali Khaled Dubai

When UFC re­turns to the UAE cap­i­tal’s Yas Is­land on July 11, the mes­sage will be clear: Abu Dhabi is open for busi­ness.

The two-week “Fight Is­land” will launch with the pay-per-view UFC 251, with three other fight nights tak­ing place on July 15, 18 and 25, all at Flash Fo­rum.

For Ali Al Shaiba, ex­ec­u­tive di­rectof of Tourism and Mar­ket­ing at the De­part­ment of Cul­ture and Tourism (DCT) Abu Dhabi, it rep­re­sents so much more.

“This is not just for Abu Dhabi or the UAE, but for the whole re­gion,” he said. “We want to show that we were able to han­dle the chal­lenges (of the coro­n­avirus crisis) and able to or­ga­nize an event of this mag­ni­tude.”

With fight­ers fly­ing in from all over the world, Fight Is­land is set to be the big­gest post-Covid-19 in­ter­na­tional sport­ing event yet. To wel­come the fight­ers, their train­ers and del­e­gates to Abu Dhabi, a 10km state of the art “Safety Zone” has been built by DCT on Yas Is­land, where noth­ing has been left to chance to en­sure the safety of ev­ery­one in­volved. “We were in dis­cus­sion with UFC for three months. For us the big chal­lenge at the start was how we can hold this event safely in the mid­dle of what was going on. How can we con­trol this?” said Al Shaiba. “We needed an open space that can be uti­lized safely. As you know Abu Dhabi is an is­land, in fact it is made up of al­most 215 is­lands. We thought why not have it on an is­land where we can con­trol the bor­der and all the points of en­try? Where we can be sure of the safety and hold it com­fort­ably.” Head­lin­ing UFC 251 will be wel­ter­weight cham­pion Ka­maru Us­man's title bout with Gil­bert Burns, and also on the card is the re­match be­tween reign­ing feath­er­weight cham­pi­ons Alex Volka­novski and Max Hol­loway. The third title fight will pit Petr Yan against Jose Aldo for the va­cant ban­tamweight crown. Ev­ery pre­cau­tion has been taken to make sure that ev­ery one of the ex­pected 2,500 es­sen­tial per­son­nel in­volved in the event at any level will have been tested thor­oughly be­fore be­ing al­lowed in­side the Safety Zone.

“We have dif­fer­ent

test­ing pro­to­cols for the staff who are in­volved in the or­ga­ni­za­tion here and for the fight­ers and camps who will be com­ing from abroad,” Al Shaiba said.

“The staff in Abu Dhabi were in quar­an­tine for 14 days at one of the five or six ho­tels on Yas Is­land which will be hold­ing del­e­gates and par­tic­i­pants. In those 14 days they are tested three times, and af­ter the last one, they are al­lowed to leave the ho­tels and carry on their in their roles across the Safety Zone.”

Those com­ing from over­seas, Al Shaiba said, will be tested 48 hours be­fore de­par­ture, and then again on land­ing at Abu Dhabi Air­port. Af­ter that they will re­ceive a third test 48 hours later at their ho­tel. The event's strict guide­lines mean that nor­mal Covid-19 safety pro­ce­dures will ap­ply to ev­ery­one tak­ing part once on the is­land. That means so­cial dis­tanc­ing will be main­tained, while wear­ing masks will be a re­quire­ment while moving around Fight Is­land. Meals and food de­liv­er­ies will also fol­low gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions that ap­ply to the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. Al Shaiba re­vealed that dur­ing their down­time the fight­ers and their col­leagues will have plenty to keep them en­ter­tained, with golf cour­ses, beaches and fine din­ing out­lets open for all to visit under con­trolled con­di­tions.

Above all, a metic­u­lous train­ing pro­gram has been de­vised for the fight­ers to en­sure min­i­mal con­tact with other par­tic­i­pants.

“We en­sured that we used best prac­tices in plan­ning the sched­ules,” Al Shaiba added. “For ex­am­ple, in the ho­tels where the fight­ers will be stay­ing, ev­ery floor will have its own gym and train­ing fa­cil­i­ties, so there will less need for them to be con­stantly take el­e­va­tors ev­ery day.”

While cut­ting down on such un­nec­es­sary move­ments en­sures a higher level of safety, there will also be fur­ther mea­sures in place to fa­cil­i­tate greater free­dom dur­ing the prepa­ra­tions.

“Of course each ho­tel has its own main gym for the more ad­vanced train­ing the fight­ers need to take part in,” he said. “And there are other train­ing fa­cil­i­ties around the is­land that will fol­low safe dis­tanc­ing pro­ce­dures. The dif­fer­ent sched­ules of the fight­ers will com­fort­ably not in­ter­fere with each other.” Al Shaiba pointed out that while they were ex­pect­ing up to 100 fight­ers to take part in the two-week event, at any one time, only some of them will be on Fight Is­land. “Those in­volved with UFC 251 for ex­am­ple, will leave af­ter their fights, while others in­volved in the fight nights might ar­rive a week af­ter that. The ar­rivals and sched­ules of the fight­ers will be stag­gered ac­cord­ing to their par­tic­i­pa­tions.”

Abu Dhabi's part­ner­ship with UFC is only set to get stronger in the com­ing years.

On Sept. 7, 2019, The Arena, Yas Is­land held UFC 242, which saw head­liner Khabib Nur­magome­dov de­feat Dustin Poirier in the light­weight title fight. It was the first of five agreed upon UFC fight nights with DCT, and Al Shaiba was keen to clar­ify that Fight Is­land is a stand­alone event, and separate from that ini­tial agree­ment. There will be plenty more to look for­ward to in the com­ing months and years. “Our con­tract with UFC is for 5 years, with one fight night sched­uled per year,” he said. “Fight Is­land is an ad­di­tional event to that. We prom­ise fans four more events, start­ing hopefully with one at the end of 2020 if at all pos­si­ble.”

BACK­GROUND

To wel­come the fight­ers, their train­ers and del­e­gates to Abu Dhabi, a 10km state of the art ‘Safety Zone’ has been built by DCT on Yas Is­land, where noth­ing has been left to chance to en­sure the safety of ev­ery­one in­volved.

A metic­u­lous train­ing pro­gram has been de­vised for the fight­ers to en­sure min­i­mal con­tact with other par­tic­i­pants.

Files/ Reuters

Gil­bert Burns , left, dur­ing his fight against Ty­ron Wood­ley. Burns and Ka­maru Us­man will face off in the UFC 251 head­line match in Abu Dhabi.

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