• Loading stock data...
Tuesday, July 16, 2024

UFC’s ‘Fight Island’ Could Become Basketball or Soccer Island

  • Before the first strike is thrown at UFC 251, Abu Dhabi tourism officials are already talking about holding other international sporting events on Yas Island.
  • Fight Island will cost less than the $150 million NBA ‘Bubble’ at Walt Disney World Orlando, say officials.
Even before first strike is thrown, talks are underway to turn UFC 'Fight Island' in the United Arab Emirates into a state-of-the-art 'safe zone' for more international sporting events.
Photo Credit: UFC

The return of live sports during the coronavirus pandemic will face another big test as the UFC’s long-awaited ‘Fight Island’ becomes a reality this weekend.

The human-made Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates’ capital city of Abu Dhabi will host UFC 251 and three ESPN Fight Night events from July 11-26. Within the island, the UFC and UAE officials have closed off a roughly 11km-long “safe zone” from the public, including hotels, restaurants, and training facilities. 

Fight Island represents a massive financial investment, and risk, by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism. A group of government agencies in Abu Dhabi and UAE are collectively footing the bill for ‘Fight Island.’ However, according to Executive Director Ali Al Shaiba, it’s worth it.

Even before the first punch or kick is thrown Saturday, Abu Dhabi tourism officials are already talking to other global sports leagues and federations about bringing their live sporting events to Yas Island. So ‘Fight Island’ could easily morph into ‘Basketball Island’ or ‘Soccer Island’ if things go well this month.

“We have a few proposals on the table for events to be on the island. We are studying them very carefully,” said Al Shaiba. “We care about the media value and exposure that this event will bring to Abu Dhabi. It’s not just about hosting an event. It’s about the message we want to send to the globe.”

Here are some details about Fight Island:

  • It will cost less than the NBA’s Bubble. The NBA will spend over $150 million at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando over three months, according to ESPN. Al Shaiba said ‘Fight Island’ will cost less, but declined to get specific. “I don’t think we are reaching that figure. But it’s a massive operation,” he said. Created in 2009, Yas Island has already hosted everything from UFC cards, Formula 1’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Asian Muaythai Championships to a Beyonce concert and Broadway shows. 
  • The UFC and media partners like ESPN are looking to pump artificial crowd noise into the TV/streaming coverage, according to Al Shaiba. The partners have been studying the use of artificial crowd noise during soccer games in Europe to see how they can best layer it into ‘Fight Island’ coverage. Cameras will be almost strictly focused on the action in the octagon to mask the fact that there will be no traditional spectators. “The roar of the fans won’t be there. The fighters won’t feel it. But the sound, the technology, can help make this more exciting,” Al Shaiba said.
  • The area in and around the octagon will feature special safety measures. The passageways to the Flash Forum indoor venue will feature “mist tunnels” designed to sanitize everyone on their entrance while killing 99% of surface bacteria. The octagon itself will be sanitized between each fight and deep-cleaned every evening.

Every person in the “safe zone” will be repeatedly tested for COVID-19. All those quarantined within the area are required to prove three negative test results to move around the area. “It’s going to be the tightest bubble that you could sort of ever produce,” UFC Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Epstein told ESPN. “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.”

‘Fight Island’ has been UFC President Dana White’s baby from the beginning. He believes the UFC will help kickstart the return of live sports around the globe.

“We came up with the idea of having fights on ‘Fight Island’ because we needed a destination to hold international events during the global pandemic,” White said in a statement. “Abu Dhabi has been an amazing location to hold fights over the past ten years, and it is the perfect place for these events.”

READ MORE: With Focus On 2021, Professional Fighters Leagues Pivots Toward Digital

As the pandemic waxed and waned, Abu Dhabi kept checking with White if he wanted to go through with it. The answer, always, was yes.

“He said, ‘You do your work, I will do mine.’ It started there,” recalled Al Shaiba. “For us, it was a challenge in the beginning. But now we are so confident that things will be exciting, easier, smarter. We have it ready now for the athletes to arrive.”

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Feb 18, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Western Conference center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) of the Minnesota Timberwolves shoots the ball during the first half of the 73rd NBA All Star game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

NBC Poised to Grab NBA All-Star Game Rights

The deal would be a major coup for the network.
Jan 7, 2024; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Calvin Ridley (0) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Nissan Stadium.

Without Hard-Line Bans, Pro Athletes and Personnel Will Keep Betting on Sports

Penalties often aren’t stringent or consistent enough to deter banned behavior.
Apr 12, 2024; Sacramento, California, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Grayson Allen (8) and guard Devin Booker (1) and guard Bradley Beal (3) and forward Royce O'Neale (00) and forward Kevin Durant (35) huddle up before the final seconds of the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center.

The Suns Have Entered the NBA’s Uncharted, Punitive Territory

The NBA’s first $400 million team between payroll and projected luxury tax.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Formula E is Powering Its Own Future


Featured Today

Oct 2, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goddell speaks during the Don Shula Celebration of Life at Hard Rock Stadium.

The NFL Is Confident It Can Overturn the Sunday Ticket Verdict

The league may have good reason to believe it can win.
July 8, 2024

NFLPA Report Cards Have Become the ‘Talk of the Locker Room’ Across..

NFLPA report cards have become the ‘talk of the locker room.’
July 7, 2024

The New College Sports Insiders Are Graphic Designers

Joe Tipton and Hayes Fawcett have become premier news-breakers on social media.
Oct 27, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; A general of the Sacramento Kings logo on the court before the game against the Golden State Warriors at Golden 1 Center.
July 6, 2024

How Sports Went From Private Equity Punchline to Coveted Asset Class

Once an industry punchline, sports are now a coveted asset class.
Jul 14, 2024; Miami, FL, USA; fans rush the gates before the Copa America Final match between Argentina and Colombia at Hard Rock Stadium.

Copa América Fallout: Greater Logistical Challenges Await 2026 World Cup

Argentina beat Colombia after unticketed fans entered the stadium.
June 7, 2024

U.S. Cricket Stuns Goliath Behind Its Star, an Ivy League Software Engineer

Team USA upset Pakistan, one of cricket’s superpowers, in overtime.
July 7, 2024

Tour de France Forced to Navigate the Paris Olympics, Too

The Olympics are disrupting the route of the iconic cycling race.

TopSpin 2K25 Brings the Legends of Tennis to Your Living Room

2K sports is reviving a classic with TopSpin 2K25.
Jun 16, 2022; New York, New York, USA; A detail view of The FIFA World Cup Trophy sits on a stand outside of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
June 5, 2024

Saudi Arabia, Likely World Cup Host, Slammed With Workers’ Rights Abuse Claims

The nation needs to build at least 10 stadiums to host.
May 6, 2024; Paris, FRANCE; A general view of construction of the Eiffel Tower Stadium, the venue for beach volleyball, in preparation for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
June 4, 2024

Microsoft Warns of Russian Olympic Disinformation Campaign

Russian actors used an AI-generated Tom Cruise in a fake propaganda film.
Aug 18, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Julio Cesar La Cruz (CUB, red) faces Adilbek Niyazymbetov (KAZ, blue) during boxing final in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion
May 29, 2024

Discredited Boxing Organization Vows to Award Prize Money to Paris Olympians

The IBA, unrecognized by the IOC, vowed $50,000 to boxing gold medalists.
May 28, 2024

Here’s Why Cricket Is Having a Major American Moment

The U.S.’s Major League Cricket just received a key sanction—and credibility.