Return to Fight Island Cements Abu Dhabi’s Status at the Forefront of Global Sports Events Revival

More than 2,500 people were housed inside 6² km safe zone ‘bubble’ on Yas Island throughout mega five-event, with more than 22,000 PCR tests completed to ensure a safe and secure environment

UFC254 provided spectacular finale to enthralling series with Khabib Nurmagomedov submitting Justin Gaethje to retain his undisputed lightweight title before announcing his retirement

Abu Dhabi ready to welcome UFC in 2021 with brand-new Etihad Arena home

Abu Dhabi, UAE – November 1, 2020: Return to Fight Island, the five-event mega UFC series on Yas Island, reinforced Abu Dhabi’s ability to host major international events with the highest standards and underlined the UAE capital’s status as the international home of UFC.

The action-packed Return to Fight Island series welcomed 116 fighters from 32 countries in 58 fights across five weekends. It was the second edition of UFC Fight Island in the space of three months to be held inside the specially created UFC Fight Island safe zone ‘bubble’ to ensure the health and safety of more than 2,500 people.

October 24 finale, UFC 254, at the Flash Forum on Yas Island, was another memorable evening and capped off the series in stunning style with Khabib Nurmagomedov submitting opponent Justin Gaethje in round two of their main event clash. Victory saw crowd favourite Khabib retain his lightweight title. He then surprised the world by announcing his retirement.

The momentous ending to Return to Fight Island was just the latest in a number of milestones for Abu Dhabi and the sport, as the Emirate cemented its position at the forefront of the global sports event revival during the pandemic. With much of the world still at a standstill, Abu Dhabi has stepped forward to give a platform for UFC fighters from every corner of the globe to continue competing in a safe and secure environment, while demonstrating its readiness to welcome visitors.  

Following an enthralling series Abu Dhabi has shown it is ready to welcome UFC again in 2021 inside a brand-new home, the multipurpose 18,000 capacity Etihad Arena.

“UFC Fight Island and Return to Fight Island truly exceeded even our high expectations. To safely and successfully host two mega event series in the space of three months, when much of the world is standing still, is testament to our special relationship with UFC, which continues to grow stronger, break records, raise the bar and deliver bigger and better events every time,” said H.E Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Executive Director of Tourism and Marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.

“Our aim for Return to Fight Island to make it even better than July’s inaugural UFC Fight Island while demonstrating Abu Dhabi’s role in reviving global sports events and our readiness to welcome visitors with the highest health and safety protocols in place. I cannot thank everybody enough formaking this happen. We have cemented Abu Dhabi’s position as a driving force for the return of live events in a safe environment and underlined why Abu Dhabi is the international home of UFC. How do we build on that now? By giving UFC a brand-new international home in the Etihad Arena.”

UFC President Dana White added: “It has been incredible experience for everyone involved, from UFC staff, the fighters my executive team. It is very had to put in words. The level of service here, the attention to detail, the infrastructure, the beach, the hotels, the restaurants. To be in a bubble, there is no better bubble on earth than the one here in Abu Dhabi.”

“The sacrifice that the people here have made… to leave their families for so long to make it happen. To the people from Abu Dhabi who worked on this whole thing, I cannot say thank you enough and how much we appreciate it,” he added.

“When the pandemic started in the US, we needed a place where we can get the fighters from all over the world to compete… and Abu Dhabi was the place. We literally have people from every inch of the world fighting in the two stints here on Fight Island.”

“To come to Abu Dhabi next time, the only way to pull that off is the Etihad Arena, it is the next step. When I toured it, I was telling them that after five to 10 years of events in the place, it will be like Madison Square Garden or the O2, that’s the next step.”

“I am sorry that I have to leave… I cannot wait to come back to here.”

After making history in Abu Dhabi once again to reach a 29-0 record, Khabib stunned Flash Forum and thew watching world. The world champion said: “This was my last fight. No way am I going to come here without my father. When UFC called me about Justin, I talked with my mother for three days, she doesn’t want me to go and fight without my father. I promised her this was going to be my last fight, and if I give my word, I have to follow this. It was my last fight here.” 

Return to Fight Island recorded a series of historic firsts and set new records, including hosting the first UFC women’s main event in the region and the first Arab fighter on a UFC main card in the region. The UFC 253: ADESANYA VS COSTA pre-fight Face-Off between Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa is the most watched Face-Off in UFC history on social media: watched by more than 7.6 million people.

Additionally, while the much of the world continued to stand still, Abu Dhabi once again was able to turn challenges into opportunities, cordoning off a 6² Km area of Yas Island as a dedicated UFC Fight Island safe zone ‘bubble’, incorporating the arena, hotels, dining establishments and entertainment facilities and Yas Beach. As part of stringent public health and safety protocols, safe zone was only accessible to UFC athletes and their coaches, UFC staff, event personnel and essential employees necessary to ensure the operational continuity of all Yas Island facilities. 

A mandatory period of quarantine and negative COVID-19 test were required before entry into the safe zone, while regular testing was conducted for everybody inside the ‘bubble’ throughout the series. More than 2,500 people were housed inside the safe zone throughout Fight Island.

The organisation of events such as UFC 254 align with the strategic initiatives of the Abu Dhabi government’s accelerators programme ‘Ghadan 21’, which aims to support continuous development efforts in Abu Dhabi by employing multi-faceted investments in the economy, knowledge and community. Fight Island and the Return to Fight Island are part of the Abu Dhabi Calendar, which is one of the initiatives under the ‘Ghadan 21’ programme to promote the advanced tourism sector in Abu Dhabi.. 

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