While some fans had expected something more like Gilligan’s Island, the UFC confirmed Tuesday that its much-ballyhooed Fight Island is Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.
Yas Island, which occupies 25 square kilometres, is a tourist attraction that has hosted Formula One’s Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since 2009. It is located 15 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The UFC has been touting Fight Island for weeks as a place to bring its international fighters who face travel restrictions getting to the U.S. because of the pandemic.
UFC plans four events on Yas Island: UFC 251 featuring three title fights on July 11 followed by three televised events on July 15, 18 and 25.
UFC president Dana White told ESPN, the UFC’s broadcast partner, that the UFC 251 main event will pit featherweight champion Alexander (The Great) Volkanovski against former title-holder Max (Blessed) Holloway.
Other fights on the pay-per-view card will see Kamaru (The Nigerian Nightmare) Usman defend his welterweight title against Gilbert (Durinho) Burns, Petr Yan face Jose Aldo for the vacant bantamweight title, Rose (Thug) Namajunas against Jessica Andrade and Paige (12 Gauge) VanZant against Amanda Ribas.
The UFC says there will be a “safety zone” within the island — featuring an arena, hotel, training facilities and restaurants — that will be restricted to UFC athletes and coaches, UFC staff and other event personnel, and essential Yas Island employees.
“We came up with the idea of having fights on ‘Fight Island’ because we needed a destination to hold international events during the global pandemic,” White said in a statement.
“Abu Dhabi has been an amazing location to hold fights over the past 10 years and it is the perfect place for these events. The infrastructure we are building will be such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the fighters that’s never been done before — from the arena, the private training facility, and the Octagon on the island.
“It’s going to be an experience that none of us will ever forget. I can’t wait to deliver amazing fights from Yas island.”
White said a training Octagon will be set up on a beach.
The Abu Dhabi shows will be the UFC’s first international events since March 14, when it staged a card in an empty arena in Brazil. It has since staged three shows without fans in Jacksonville, Fla., and two at its production facility in Las Vegas. It plans three more shows in Las Vegas this month.
While the UFC had been close-mouthed about the Fight Island location prior to Tuesday, featherweight Herbert (The Blaze) Burns — Gilbert’s younger brother — gave the game away after his win over Evan Dunham on Saturday in Las Vegas, saying it was in Abu Dhabi.
The UFC and Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism signed a five-year agreement in 2019 to bring fight cards to the United Arab Emirates. The first show under the deal was UFC 242 last September which saw lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov defeat interim title-holder Dustin (The Diamond) Poirier.
Abu Dhabi also hosted UFC 112 in 2010, the UFC’s first outdoor event and first in the Middle East.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirates. The Lonely Planet travel guide says Yas Island “has blossomed into the capital’s adrenalin hub” with attractions such as Ferrari World, Warner Bros World and Waterworld as well as Yas Mall.
Also announced Tuesday was the UFC 252 main event Aug. 15 between heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and former title-holder Daniel Cormier — the third chapter of their trilogy. White said he did not have a location as of yet.
Cormier dethroned Miocic at UFC 226 in July 2018, then won his title back at UFC 241 last August.