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While many fighters were surely hoping to compete in some tropical paradise in the Caribbean or the South Pacific, Fight Island is none other Yas Island in the Middle East.
The UFC boss announced the news on his social media accounts on Tuesday morning. He also dropped the dates for the first four fight cards at this setting. The Fight Island fun will kick off with the UFC 251 pay-per-view on July 11 and continue with three more events over the following two weeks.
While the pertinent details of White’s Fight Island plan are finally out in the open, many fans still have questions about what’s to come.
Allow us to aid you on your quest for answers.
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Yas Island is in Abu Dhabi, the capital and second-most populous city in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a country on the Arabian Peninsula. It shares land borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia and maritime borders with Qatar and Iran.
Yas Island itself has a footprint of just under 10 square miles, making it a little less than half the size of Manhattan (22.7 square miles). According to Google Maps, it’s about a 17-minute drive from the Abu Dhabi International Airport, so it’s hardly the far-flung, exotic locale many fans were expecting from Fight Island.
Yas Island is also the home of the Yas Marina Circuit, which has hosted the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix since 2009. In other words, it’s no stranger to large sporting events.
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The official UFC press release announcing Yas Island as the host of the upcoming Fight Island events referred to the whole scenario as “historic.”
That’s a stretch.
The UFC has already promoted two events on Yas Island. The first was UFC 112 in April 2010, which was headlined by a middleweight title fight between then-champion Anderson Silva and challenger Demian Maia. The second was UFC 242 last September, when Khabib Nurmagomedov defend the UFC lightweight strap with a submission win over Dustin Poirier.
That event marked the beginning of a five-year partnership between the UFC and the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism, so the infrastructure and business relationships required to promote UFC events on Yas Island are already well established.
Unfortunately, the problems with promoting fight cards in Abu Dhabi are also well established at this point. The region is unbelievably hot in the summer. So hot that there have been legitimate concerns with respect to fighter safety during the UFC’s previous visits to the city.
To make matters worse, July is the second-hottest month of the year on average in Abu Dhabi.
Fight Island is going to feel a bit like the inside of slow cooker.
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At the moment, there are four events scheduled to occur on Yas Island.
The first will be the UFC 251 pay-per-view for July 11. UFC 251 will be headlined by a welterweight title fight between champion Kamaru Usman and top-ranked contender Gilbert Burns. It’s also expected to feature two more title fights: a featherweight championship rematch between champion Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway and a bantamweight showdown between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo, who will be dueling for the division’s vacant throne after Henry Cejudo’s retirement.
The second card on Yas Island is scheduled for July 15. That card is currently without a headliner but is expected to feature an interesting strawweight fight between former champion Carla Esparza and rising contender Marina Rodriguez.
Next up is a card on July 18. This one will reportedly be headlined by a rematch for the vacant flyweight title between Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez.
The last of the fight cards officially confirmed for Yas Island at this stage is on July 25. It’s expected to be headlined by a middleweight fight between former champion Robert Whittaker and red-hot contender Darren Till.
That’s all that’s been announced so far, but it’s possible more events will be confirmed later.
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When the idea of Fight Island was first broached, it was difficult not imagine our favorite fighters competing on a Mortal Kombat stage.
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya openly daydreamed about fighting Paulo Costa in a movie come to life. UFC welterweight contender Colby Covington seemed to envision competing on some kind of raised platform over open water—which would allow him to throw Tyron Woodley “to the sharks.“
Unfortunately for Adesanya, Covington and anyone else who was hoping for some real-life Mortal Kombat on Yas Island, it sounds like we’re in for a pretty familiar setup.
According to TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter, the scene won’t look all that different from the UFC Apex facility, the venue that hosted the last two UFC events. Of course, that’s not at all surprising.
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We’ve already covered the fact that Abu Dhabi is wicked hot. We’re talking about a heat so relentless that fighters and coaches have expressed worry that performances might be affected.
The heat is the big issue with promoting events in Abu Dhabi under ordinary circumstances. During the coronavirus pandemic, there are obviously many more factors at play (as B/R’s own Scott Harris detailed in an article last month).
On June 9, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention confirmed 528 new cases of COVID-19, which brings the total cases in the country to 39,904. In other words, the virus is still a very real threat in the country, which means the UFC is going to have a very difficult time ensuring the safety of its fighters and staff while on the ground. Then again, that would be true in pretty much any country the UFC could visit at present. So perhaps the real question is not whether the UFC should be promoting events on Yas Island, but whether the UFC should be promoting events at all.
While that question has divided fans and pundits, we know where Dana White stands.
“I have over 350 employees who work for me,” White stated on Instagram Live in March. “Multi-billion-dollar companies are laying off all their employees right now. We haven’t laid off one person at the UFC. And every fighter that fights for me will fight three times this year. Our schedule will go on. Everybody’s gonna get paid, and we will figure this out, and we will be the first sport back on. And, uh, f–k that s–t. Everything will go on.”
Thankfully, White told TMZ that there will be “lots of testing, lots of quarantining and lots of fighting” on Fight Island.
It’s a risky operation, but hopefully it all goes down without a hitch.
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Any time the UFC visits Abu Dhabi, there’s a big, ugly elephant in the room: The UAE has an abysmal human rights record.
Where do we begin?
According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2019, “UAE authorities have launched a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011. The UAE arbitrarily detains and forcibly disappears individuals who criticize the authorities within the UAE’s borders.”
The UAE is also part of a Saudi-helmed coalition operating in nearby Yemen, throughout which Human Rights Watch has recorded “about 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some likely war crimes, since March 2015.”
The country also has a terrible track record in terms of discrimination against women. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE law “allows domestic violence.”
“Article 53 of the penal code allows the imposition of ‘chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children’ so long as the assault does not exceed the limits of Islamic law,” HRW’s World Report 2019 explains. “Marital rape is not a crime.”
And that’s just scratching the surface, without getting into the country’s despicable attitude toward homosexuality or its treatment of its massive migrant workforce.
Is the UAE a country the UFC really wants to be in business with? Evidently so, otherwise the promotion would not have signed a five-year deal with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism or chosen the city as the setting of Fight Island. The ethical implications of these decisions, though, are impossible to ignore.