Dubai: To say that the recently concluded Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi was a success would be a great disservice to what the UFC pulled off, notwithstanding the extreme circumstance in which we live due to the deadly coronavirus pandemic that has held the world to ransom for the past five months.
Conducting four fight nights featuring over 100 combatants from across the planet within the short span of three weeks would be a Herculean task for any organiser.
Add to that the worldwide lockdowns, travel restrictions, multiple COVID-19 testing, acute social distancing, disciplining, policing and what not… it was one of the hardest things to do, and do it well, without a hitch.
While the UFC’s hands-on President, Dana White, who is a stickler for everyone to abide by ‘his’ rules and for compliance by all and sundry, played a pivotal role, as only he can, hats off to the local authorities in Abu Dhabi for making the necessary adjustments to stay on the same page and help Fight Island go down in the history books as a one-of-a-kind mixed martial arts event.
Right from the opener on July 11, Fight Island’s events were conducted with the least amount of fuss behind closed doors at the stunning Yas Island military-style camp where only the most necessary personnel were allowed to be present.
Now, let’s talk about the cards that the UFC put on.
From the star-studded opener on July 11, which featured three championship bouts, UFC 251 was one of the most highly anticipated fight slates of the year.
Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal was an absolute cracker, both in the build-up and worldwide publicity it generated, to the fight itself.
Both fighters gave it their all, with Usman winning despite a broken nose and Masvidal suffering cuts to the head for his efforts. The two fighters earned their keep and shared prize money of close to $1 million, which was reportedly allocated for the event.
Alex Volkanovski and Petr Van retained their featherweight and bantamweight tiles with wins over Max Holloway and Jose Aldo respectively, while the likeable Rose Namajunas stepped back into contention in the women’s strawweight division by avenging her loss to Jessica Andrade.
It was a sad day for Paige VanZant, who suffered an unceremonious first-round loss to Amanda Ribas which sent the sport’s pin-up girl packing from UFC.
Only four days later, UFC was back to stage the second event where the exciting Calvin Kattar defeated Dan Ige in the main fight.
But it was the Dubai-based Mounir Lazzez, the first Arab-based fighter signed by the UFC who stole the spotlight with his unanimous decision victory over the well regarded Abdul Razak Elhassan in the welterweight category.
The third event on Fight Island saw Deiveson Figueiredo easily overwhelm Joseph Benavidez in a rematch to set the tone the series finale on July 26 where Australia’s Robert Whittaker dominated England’s Darren Till.
Even as the dust starts to settle on the Yas Island facility, hopes are high that the UFC will return to the UAE, soon.