It has been nearly 4 months since the coronavirus got declared a pandemic and stopped the world in its tracks. Lives and livelihoods have been hit by the cancelation of a plethora of events. The MLB and NBA seasons were hit. Furthermore, the MLS too got hit. Tennis also bore the brunt of the global infection. However, just weeks after the cancelation of events became the norm, Dana White and the UFC refused to bow down.
The UFC President vowed to do all he could to restore normalcy to the world. He persevered and managed to host multiple events over the last 2 months. However, he had to overcome travel restrictions to help the UFC’s international fighters earn a payday too.
To set this up, the UFC President concluded to host matches on an island. Whilst the media doubted him, White remained steadfast in his belief and now in under 36 hours, Fight Island will commence operations with UFC 251.
In April, Jorge Masvidal was stunned and used the words “It’s Crazy” to describe the concept. He went on to compare it to Bruce Lee’s martial arts classic ‘Enter the Dragon.’ Now in a spectacular sequence of events, he will be part of the main event.
On hearing the term ‘Fight Island’ fans began visualizing an isolated Island where the fighters would stay and compete. A few people even compared it to the video game called Mortal Kombat and went as far as to liken the UFC President to Tsanh Shung.
However, contrary to all such wild ideas, Fight Island is Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. The Island is a few minutes from the city and is a major tourist destination spread out over 25 square km. On the Island are major tourist attractions such as Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Sea World Abu Dhabi, and Warner. Bros World Abu Dhabi.
In addition to this, the island also plays host to the annual Formula 1 event on the Yas Marina Circuit.
The fights will take place inside a specially constructed location on the island called the Flash Forum Arena. This is a bit perplexing as Yas Island has hosted 3 UFC events in the past in regular arenas. However, the new arena as well as facilities could be worth their weight in gold to attract even more visitors to the tourist hotspot.
As per a Sports Business article, The Abu Dhabi government is financing the Fight Island program. UFC COO Lawrence Epstein added that the city is paying a hosting fee as well.
He said, “The value in kind they’ve provided to put these events on is incredible, something nobody else in the world could have done. We’re going to deliver them four events in US primetime, generating a significant amount of exposure for Yas Island and Abu Dhabi.”
Once the Fight Island hotels, media rooms, gyms, and the newly constructed Flash Forum Arena featuring the Octagon on the beach are opened to the public, it will draw MMA fans in large numbers.
This seems to be a masterstroke by Abu Dhabi as it will help sports fans get their weekly fill. Furthermore, it will set up the infrastructure for tourism which will resume once the world combats the coronavirus.
Epstein continued, “The primary goal of the Abu Dhabi tourism authority was to let the world know about the all the great stuff going on in Abu Dhabi and Yas Island, and the idea is that when the world goes back to normal, people can come and check out what they’ve seen.”
The Octagon on the beach is certainly something fans would pay money to get into.
This is the first time that the UFC will host fights in a beachside location. The company has been all around the world and held events in famous arenas such as Madison Square Garden, O2 Arena, Rod Laver Arena, Mandalay Bay Arena, and The Trump Taj Mahal. However, the Flash Forum is a venue featuring a beachside octagon which is a unique idea. Unlike the 25-foot enclosure at the UFC Apex, Fight Island’s Flash Forum will feature a standard 30-foot cage.
The words ‘Octagon on the beach’ no doubt had fans assuming the sight of the sand and waters somewhere near the cage. However, given the setup of the Octagon and the lights, it will feel like an arena. As expected there will be a roof and walls to keep out the elements whilst combatants slug it out.
This venue will certainly leapfrog any iconic arena that the UFC has hosted its previous 524 events in. This is because the Fight Island Flash Forum will become synonymous with the promotion.
As mentioned earlier, the UFC has hosted a bunch of events over the last 2 months. They have conducted fights in Florida before moving to their base at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Dana White has constantly maintained that safety was high on the priority list even before the pandemic.
At UFC 249, Ronaldo Souza tested positive which showed the company that their testing protocol worked. Earlier fighters were tested regularly, but for Fight Island, each athlete will be tested 5 times.
The first of these tests take place at the cities (Sao Paulo, Las Vegas, London, Moscow) from which fighters will board their flights to Abu Dhabi. This is where Gilbert Burns tested positive and withdrew from the mega event. Furthermore, Jorge Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown too did not get clearance to travel after a positive test.
As per a tweet by Dana White, the company has conducted 2004 tests. Furthermore, there are 17 dedicated medical personnel and 3 medical facilities. These will see the fighters get tested 3 times in the buildup to the fight. Only after they clear all the required tests will they be permitted to enter the Flash Forum.
This is because the virus symptoms can take up to 2 weeks to manifest. This means that an individual can become contagious even after a negative test despite being isolated. Also, they will only get the green signal to head home after clearing the 5th test post their fights.
In addition to this, the Island will be isolated. This ensures that no unauthorized individuals come in and risk the spread of infection.
As is the norm all over the world, the fighters and other personnel too will have to have masks on at all times. This is sight fans have gotten accustomed to as fighters have their pre-fight media interactions, weigh-ins as well as faceoffs with a mask. However, in the sanctuary of Fight Island, the protocols will be a little more stringent. The fighters will have to keep their mask on for as long as possible.
As per Marc Raimondi’s ESPN article, Lawrence Epstein said, “It’s going to be the tightest bubble that you could sort of ever produce. It’s a pretty unique situation on an island with incredible controls over who’s coming in and not letting people come back in once they’ve left.”
In addition to their attempts to keep a metaphorically airtight atmosphere around Yas Island, the UFC has a plethora of safety instructions that personnel must attend to.
Fighters will have their private workout areas and will have to pass nightly temperature screenings. This is in addition to the regular testing. Furthermore, they must stay 6.5 feet away from the nearest person to adhere to social distancing.
Based on their preparations, it seems as though the UFC Fight Island could be awarded the tag of the safest place on the earth.
What do you make of the UFC’s best-laid plans for the inaugural stint at the Flash Forum?
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