Ev­ery­thing you need to know about the his­toric UFC Fight Is­land in Abu Dhabi

The National - News - - SPORT UFC - JOHN McAULEY

The UFC re­turns to Abu Dhabi on Sun­day, but not like we have seen be­fore. The cap­i­tal will host the in­au­gu­ral Fight Is­land, a se­ries of events tak­ing place at one lo­ca­tion across a two-week pe­riod, with the opener boast­ing one of the best cards of the year.

What is it?

The UFC have never pro­duced a Fight Is­land be­fore. In fact, this will most likely be a one­off. Faced with not be­ing able to stage fights be­cause of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis, and then with sub­se­quent travel re­stric­tions im­pact­ing the United States and coun­tries across the world, the pro­mo­tion cre­ated the con­cept to al­low their in­ter­na­tional ath­letes to com­pete.

Its lo­ca­tion had been a closely guarded se­cret, be­fore Abu Dhabi was con­firmed as hosts last month. It will com­prise four events: July 12, 16, 19 and 26.

The first in the se­ries will be UFC 251, a stacked, pay-per­view event fea­tur­ing three ti­tle fights. The other three events each run un­der the “UFC Fight Night” ban­ner.

Why Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi had al­ready a close re­la­tion­ship with the UFC, but that was strength­ened last year when it signed a five-year deal with the pro­mo­tion. Un­der the agree­ment, the UFC agreed to put on one ma­jor event an­nu­ally, as first seen with UFC 242 last Septem­ber. Fight Is­land is viewed an “ex­ten­sion” of that ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship, and there­fore doesn’t im­pact the UFC’s re­turn to the emi­rate later this year - most prob­a­bly in Oc­to­ber.

When is it?

UFC 251 be­gins on Sun­day morn­ing with the pre­lims at 2am, with the main card sched­uled to get un­der­way at around 6am.

Where is it?

Flash Fo­rum will house all four events. The Depart­ment of Tourism and Cul­ture Abu Dhabi have cre­ated a 25-kilo­me­tre “safe zone” on Yas Is­land that will be open only to fight­ers, coaches, UFC staff and other per­son­nel deemed nec­es­sary to the op­er­a­tion. DCT Abu Dhabi told The

Na­tional there will be more than 2,500 peo­ple on site for the du­ra­tion of Fight Is­land.

Who is fight­ing?

The main card for UFC 251 is head­lined by wel­ter­weight cham­pion Ka­maru Us­man’s ti­tle de­fence against Jorge Masvi­dal, who was an 11thhour re­place­ment for Gil­bert Burns. Born in Nige­ria, Us­man is un­de­feated in 11 UFC ap­pear­ances, with a pro­fes­sional mixed mar­tial arts record of 16-1. He cap­tured the wel­ter­weight crown in March last year when he de­feated Ty­ron Wood­ley by unan­i­mous de­ci­sion. Us­man last fought in De­cem­ber, de­fend­ing his ti­tle against Colby Cov­ing­ton.

Masvi­dal, mean­while, stepped in for Burns at short no­tice af­ter the Brazil­ian tested pos­i­tive for Covid-19. One of the sport’s most pop­u­lar fight­ers, Masvi­dal is a ver­i­ta­ble vet­eran, with 35 vic­to­ries and 13 de­feats. The Amer­i­can last fought in Novem­ber, when he saw off Nate Diaz by TKO to claim the one-off “BMF” crown.

Else­where, feather­weight cham­pion Alexan­der Volka­novski and Max Hol­loway will go head-to-head for the sec­ond time in a re­match of their De­cem­ber clash. Aus­tralian Volka­novski won the orig­i­nal bout by unan­i­mous de­ci­sion to take Hol­loway’s ti­tle.

Round­ing out the ti­tle fights, Petr Yan and Jose Aldo will face off for the va­cant ban­tamweight crown fol­low­ing cham­pion Henry Cejudo’s de­ci­sion to re­tire last month.

UFC 251’s main card is com­pleted by the highly an­tic­i­pated re­match be­tween for­mer strawweigh­t cham­pi­ons Rose Na­ma­ju­nas and Jes­sica An­drade, who first met in May last year, and the match-up at fly­weight be­tween Amanda Ribas and Paige Van­zant.

Jes­sica An­drade, above, is fight­ing Rose Na­ma­ju­nas

Ka­maru Us­man, above, takes on Jorge Masvi­dal at UFC 251

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