The UFC deserves tons of credit for what they’ve been doing in recent months.
After holding eight events split between Florida and Las Vegas in May and June, the world’s leading mixed marital arts organization just completed its first slate of events on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island – now simply known to sports fans as “Fight Island.”
The UFC is more mainstream than it has ever been but remains the black sheep of the professional sports world due to the violent nature of MMA. It marches to the beat of its own drum and it wasn’t going to be dissuaded from putting on exciting events during trying times.
Roughly three months after Dana White announced the UFC was securing a private location to hold international events during the coronavirus pandemic, the organization unveiled Fight Island and announced they’d be holding empty-venue events at the Flash Forum.
The UFC spared no expense and went to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of the athletes and their corners, the production staff and everyone involved.
Hundreds of people were flown in from around the globe and with the help of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism, there were thousands of COVID tests administered so that Fight Island was as safe as possible.
July was quite something.
In total there were 51 fights across the four events that resulted in 28 decisions, 13 submissions and 10 KO/TKOs.
Whether it was a highlight-reel knockout, a scintillating submission or a back-and-forth battle that went to the scorecards like when Pride FC legends Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira ran back the clock for a third time, fight fans were treated to some awesome moments.
Here are some notable highlights from all the Fight Island action.
One of the main purposes of Fight Island was to give fighters outside North America a chance to shine, and we saw plenty of examples of that. Several international fighters made quite the impression in their organizational debuts.
Chechen-born Swede Khamzat Chimaev looks like the real deal. He dominated rugged middleweight John Philips in his debut on July 15. He emerged without a scratch and campaigned for another fight while the UFC was in Abu Dhabi. White obliged and 10 days later Chimaev was paired with Cage Warriors veteran Rhys McKee. Chimaev ran through McKee, this time in his natural weight class of welterweight, to set a record for the shortest amount of time in between UFC wins.
Chimaev landed 83 significant strikes in the two bouts and only absorbed one – yes, just one – significant strike. That’s two nearly flawless performances. We still need to see him in there against more established competition, sure, but he appears to have real championship potential.
“I’m gonna smash everybody,” Chimaev said after his TKO of McKee. “Easy work, easy money.”
Here to everyone. pic.twitter.com/eR5nFjlIu0
— UFC (@ufc) July 26, 2020
This fella is no joke!! Making it look easy #fightisland3
— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) July 26, 2020
Czech Republic’s Jiri Prochazka put the 205-pound division on notice when he blasted Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 251. Prochazka has a wild style, is a former Rizin Fighting Federation champion and is riding an 11-fight winning streak during which he has knocked out 10 opponents. He went from being unranked to the No. 8 contender in the division thanks to this ferocious right hand.
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) July 12, 2020
Fellow light-heavyweights Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania and Roman Dolidze of Georgia also made statements with big stoppage wins in their debuts, instantly making the division all the more intriguing.
Dubai’s Mounir Lazzez had a debut to remember. White first heard about Lazzez from one of his son’s friends who kept pestering him during White’s son’s birthday party earlier this year, saying the UFC should sign Lazzez and give him a shot in the big show. The UFC threw Lazzaz to the wolves and pitted him against knockout artist Abdul Razak Alhassan. Lazzez withstood a blitzkrieg from Alhassan early in the opening round and then began showing off his serious skill set. Lazzez won a unanimous decision and walked away with a Fight of the Night bonus.
— UFC (@ufc) July 16, 2020
It took England’s Tom Aspinall a mere 45 seconds to pick up his first UFC victory, putting away Jake Collier with a beautiful combination. Aspinall is a name to keep an eye on in the heavyweight division and one of Europe’s top up-and-coming fighters.
— UFC (@ufc) July 25, 2020
Fighters who raised their stock…
The UFC has an emerging star in Amanda Ribas. The always-smiling Brazilian made quick work of Paige VanZant in a flyweight contest despite being ranked at strawweight. Ribas was the opening fight on the UFC 251 main card, a pay-per-view event that reportedly did more than one million buys, so there were plenty of eyeballs on her. The 26-year-old is 4-0 in the UFC and has one of the most infectious personalities on the entire UFC roster. Sky’s the limit for this judo and jiu-jitsu black belt.
Calvin Kattar cemented himself as a legitimate contender at 145 pounds with a nice five-round showing against fellow top-10 featherweight Dan Ige in their main event bout. Kattar is ranked as the No. 6 contender and has his sights set on the top-five that is made up of Max Holloway, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Brian Ortega, Chan Sung Jung and Yair Rodriguez.
Rafael Fiziev was knocked out in 86 seconds by Magomed Mustafaev in his UFC debut last April so some fans wrote him off. It was his first and only loss in MMA and considering how good he looked in his Fight of the Night performance against Marc Diakiese, it seems as though he could do some damage in the stacked lightweight division.
Fiziev put on a clinic and by showing off his Matrix-like moves he gained a whole pile of new fans. If he’s matched with another talented striker it’ll be a must-watch fight.
There were four title fights in Abu Dhabi and the results ended up setting the stage for some interesting matchups later this year.
Deiveson Figueiredo looks as though he has breathed some new life into the flyweight division. Figueiredo won the vacant 125-pound title by annihilating Joseph Benavidez. The Brazilian might just have the heaviest hands in flyweight history to go with a top-level submission game. He’s now 19-1 in MMA and has an aggressive, fan-friendly style. Demetrious Johnson carried this division for years before Henry Cejudo had a brief stint at the top of the mountain. Figueiredo is now poised to carry the torch.
The other three title bouts went down at UFC 251 with Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski defending their welterweight and featherweight belts, respectively, and Petr Yan taking home the vacant bantamweight strap. Those three champions have a combined 28-0 record in UFC competition and are great representatives for their respective weight classes.
Former champions fared quite well, too, with Rose Namajunas, Fabricio Werdum, Carla Esparza, Mauricio Rua and Robert Whittaker all picking up nice wins on Fight Island.