When UFC President Dana White suggested the idea of Fight Island, it sounded crazy to many.
How would it work? Is it an octagon on the beach? Was he going to simply buy an island? How would fighters get there? So many questions arose and White had all the answers.
Fight Island wasn’t a brand new idea as much as it was an old solution brought to life once again. UFC had set up camp on Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates back in 2010 for UFC 112 and 10 years later, they made their way back.
So what’s it like here? talkSPORT has made the trip to Fight Island to watch all three shows UFC has planned between January 16-23 culminating in Conor McGregor’s return to the octagon.
First of all, UFC’s safety protocols are as stringent as you could possibly imagine. No corners are being cut and they have gone to great expense to ensure everyone’s safety.
I had to have two COVID-19 tests before I could get on the plane over here. One was ten days before flying, the other about 36 hours before. After taking the second test, we quarantined in a hotel room by Heathrow airport.
Once they came back negative, we flew to Abu Dhabi. Upon arrival at our hotel, we had another test immediately and quarantined again. A new day brought yet another test and further quarantining and so the first two days was nothing but admiring the sunshine from a hotel room window, although the promotion and their UAE hosts were very accommodating while ensuring everyone’s safety.
I had another test on Friday morning to make sure I was able to attend the Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar fight on Saturday and I’ll be having tests the day before the other two cards, as well the one in before flying home.
Fight Island comprises of just three locations, which you can only move between via the UFC shuttle. There’s a hotel for media and UFC staff, a much grander hotel (more on that in a minute) for the fighters and then the newly-built Etihad Arena where all fights will take place.
You cannot go for a stroll, you cannot walk to the beach, you cannot cycle anywhere – you must stay within the boundaries of the three locations.
It’s a very nice hotel and then you see where the fighters are holed up!
There’s a gym that is constantly monitored and cleaned, a couple of swimming pools and a nice space to walk around and take in the consistently sun-soaked views.
The shops and hairdressers within the hotel that would usually be open are closed due to COVID. Still, as the only group in the hotel, the staff are amazingly helpful.
It’s pretty amazing. As soon as you walk in, it looks every inch the palatial setting Dana White has been used to and this is reinforced when you realise there is an F1 track outside and a marina!
The media rooms are located on the ground floor and en route to them you’ll find last minute weight-cutting areas, gyms in addition to luxurious lounges and bars.
For an idea of what the fighter’s suites look like, check out Dustin Poirier’s room below, which comes complete with an edible octagon and action figure.
UFC lightweight Paul Felder told talkSPORT his room was big enough for him to ‘do laps around it’ if he wanted to. He also had them specially fit in a bike he wanted so he could train during the quarantine process and it’s believed those on Yas Island have helped fulfil many, many fighter requests.
Fighters have been running and doing pad work around the grounds of their hotel, too, making use of the fantastic weather. It seems a very relaxed atmosphere; you might expect more tension with three big fight cards on the horizon!
The arena is still very much under construction and will be right up until fight night.
However, all of the safety measures are very much in place, as are the staff that will enforce them. Even walking through as media we were told to sanitise our hands at every juncture, keep a distance between our peers and keep moving.
The seats have been marked out inside the arena where people can and can’t sit. There’s not many fans per row and they are spaced out over quite a distance. What effect that will have on the atmosphere is hard to say, but there is no doubt that safety comes first here.
There are protective boards up to separate the crowd from the floor and there will be staff sanitising the floor/octagon at every interval.
Rules for fans
UFC and officials at the Etihad Arena have put rules in place for those fans lucky enough to be attending these events.
As far as checking for the virus goes, upon arriving to the venue entrance, all spectators will undergo a check of their valid 48-hour PCR test, thermal scanning and ticket checks. Spectators will have to present the AlHosn App OR a medical center report for the valid 48-Hour PCR test. Furthermore, any spectator showing signs of high fever or without a valid 48-hour PCR COVID-19 test will be denied entry with no refunds to their ticket.
Fans are told that wearing a face mask is always mandatory within the venue – even when seated – and they must adhere to social distancing guidelines in and around the venue.
Food and non-alcoholic beverages through hawkers or via physical concessions at the venue, but you can just order it from your seat, too.
Alcohol WILL be available through hawkers and physical concessions at the venue.
All purchases are through contactless payments. Sanitisation of the venue will take place prior to the event and sanitisers are placed all around the venue.