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