When Dana White first announced that the UFC had "secured an island" on which to hold events during the COVID-19 pandemic, fan imaginations naturally went to images of "Enter the Dragon" and battles on a remote beach. While the truth was a little less exotic, the fights that took place on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi from mid-to-late July brought plenty of action and memorable moments.
Now, the UFC is preparing for a second trip to Fight Island, beginning with UFC 253 on Sept. 26 for a five-week stint in Abu Dhabi. We learned plenty about the UFC's operations on the first trip and can anticipate how things will look as the UFC hosts an international event during a global pandemic.
Still, fans have many questions about how things will continue work on the other side of the world for some of their favorite fighters. And just how safe is the environment fighters are flying into from all over the world. Below is all the info UFC has released about how Fight Island will operate and how much testing will go on for fighters, trainers, commentators, media and staff members.
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Where is Fight Island?
Ahead of the July events, the UFC announced Fight Island is actually Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, a manmade island on which the UFC has previously held events. While the initial idea of fights on an island brought to mind a sort of lawless atmosphere on a remote island, the reality is far different. Yas Island features three fully-functional theme parks and a fourth currently under construction, as well as an airport, seven hotels, a golf course and an arena.
When do Fight Island fights start?
The first event on the UFC's second trip to Yas Island will be UFC 253 on Sept. 26. The promotion will then hold Fight Night events on Oct. 3, 10 and 17 before finishing the run with UFC 254 on Oct. 24.
The fights are slated to begin at the standard UFC start time, meaning a main card start time of 10 p.m. ET for the pay-per-view events, which is 6 a.m. local time. Early prelims would go on as early (or late) as 2 a.m. local. The UFC's previous events on Yas Island started at 10 p.m. local time. But the current environment surrounding the pandemic and lack of fans in attendance seemingly led to standard event start times to accommodate the larger television audience.
How does Fight Island operate?
While there had been talk by White in the past that Fight Island would feature "an Octagon on the beach," the fights will take place in an arena and the beach Octagon will be used for training and promotional purposes. This is likely due to temperatures in the 90s to 100s in the morning and early afternoon in summer months in Abu Dhabi. The venue for the fights is Flash Forum, not "The Arena," the venue where UFC 242 was held in 2019.
Fighters will stay in a hotel which will feature a ballroom converted to a gym -- with a 21-person capacity -- and will also have a private workout area and private sauna in a room near the hotel room in which they're staying. Fighters and their camp will not have access to any of these rooms until they have passed COVID-19 testing.
Fighters will also have three meals each day provided to them as well as a $150/day per diem for additional items.
How will travel and testing be handled?
Fighters and their camps will travel to, and fly out of, one of four hub cities to travel to Abu Dhabi. Those hub cities are Las Vegas, London, Sao Paulo and Moscow. For any fighter unable to travel one of those cities, the UFC states that special accommodations will be made. Before taking a flight, fighters and their camps must submit a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours prior to departure.
Fighters will again be tested upon arrival in Abu Dhabi and will quarantine in their hotel rooms for up to 12 hours while waiting for the result of their test. Another test will be conducted in the hotel room following receiving the result of that test. One final pre-fight test will be conducted ahead of the fight and fighters will be tested one final time before their return flight home.
The following document was provided to fighters who are participating on the July "Fight Island" cards.
How have fights been affected by COVID-19?
Two UFC 251 bouts were changed due to positive COVID-19 tests. First, Alexander Romanov was pulled from his bout with Marcin Tybura, then headliner Gilbert Burns was pulled from his bout with welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Both positive tests came ahead of travel to the event. That would be the case for all positive COVID-19 tests for the four events on Fight Island. Five fights were either canceled or postponed due to positive tests across the four cards, but all were caught prior to traveling to Abu Dhabi.
In the eight events held in Las Vegas between the UFC's two trips to Fight Island, 12 total fights were either canceled or postponed due to positive tests by either fighters or their cornermen. That made the rate 1.5 fights per event in Las Vegas versus 1.25 on Fight Island. Though, again, almost all tests in both cases came prior to fighters being on location for Fight Week events.