It started as an ambitious plan by UFC president Dana White but resulted in a legend: UFC Fight Island.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the world was consumed by panic, and organized sports across the globe were forced to come to a complete halt.
Not wanting to comply, Dana White decided to make history. Setting his sights on Yas Island, in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates.
UFC Fight Island: A Legend Is Born
It was 2020, and COVID-19 had the world in a vice grip. Fed up with COVID-related travel restrictions that were preventing his fighters from making it to the U.S, White decided to pursue a dream of a real-life Mortal Kombat-like Fight Island.
Rumors started swirling around this time, but in the beginning, people thought the UFC was going to buy their own island and create a new arena from scratch. However, things would go a more realistic route and instead, Yas Island would become Fight Island.
To turn this into a reality and make it come to fruition, precautions would have to be put in place. A “bio-secure bubble” was created. Featuring training facilities, the beach, hotels, and restaurants for only the staff of the bubble, and fighters who were going to be competing. Everyone inside the bubble was COVID tested multiple times before entering the safe zone, and they did so through “mist tunnels” which showered the occupants with a disinfecting spray.
So far there have been 13 UFC events held on Fight Island. Featuring five PPVs and the UFC’s historic first-ever event on ABC. Today, we go over these events, talking about the wildest finishes, greatest upsets, and more. As well as going over some of the more common questions and misconceptions about Fight Island!
Common Questions about Fight Island
Does the UFC Own an Island, and How Much Was It Purchased for?
No, the UFC does not own an Island, so there was no money used to purchase one.
The costs of doing so would be astronomical when you think about it. They’d have to buy the island, but also develop it by building an arena, amenities like restaurants and hotels, etc. They could’ve also tried to buy an Island with pre-existing infrastructure like that, but no doubt the cost of that would be even more insane.
So, it made sense to rent one, and Dana White and the UFC found the perfect candidate.
How Much Is the Cost?
While there have never been exact figures listed of the true cost of Fight Island, one can only imagine in total there were millions if not tens of millions spent on everything involved.
What we do know is the UFC didn’t buy the island, they rented one. Dana White and Abu Dhabi have long had a flourishing relationship by evidence of their five-year deal signed with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism back in 2019.
However, this Fight Island deal is entirely separate and very generous of Abu Dhabi. The UFC only pays for what they would normally pay for. Expenses like paying for UFC staff, flying in fighters and their teams, and the other usual costs they’d accrue.
Abu Dhabi would pay for things such as COVID testing, the site and hosting fees, and a few other accommodations such as food, hotel, and training facility fees. Citing the exposure and potential tourist revenue from hosting Fight Island as far more valuable than the costs.
What Would an Adventure to Fight Island Cost?
While this differs varying on things like where you live, how you get there, and what seats you want to buy, be assured it’s probably going to set you back a pretty penny to afford this luxury.
Tickets depending on seating can take your ticket price from something like $200 to almost $1,500. And the way you fly from somewhere like America for example can increase your cost from $800+ for economy class to $13,000+ first class.
Basically, be prepared to spend if you want to make a once-in-a-lifetime memory taking a trip to Fight Island! If you’re enough of a fan it would surely be worth it, but it could be considered more of a bucket list thing and a trip taken when financially ready.
What Venues have featured Fight Island Fights?
The du Forum and Etihad Arena have so far been the only two venues used by the UFC.
The du Forum is a much smaller indoor venue with a capacity of 4,500 people. The UFC most likely used this arena at the beginning of their Fight Island forays due to its smaller size and the whole “no crowd” effect the pandemic put in play.
The Ethiad Arena on the other hand is a much larger venue and is actually the middle east’s largest indoor entertainment center, with a capacity of 18,000 people. It’s also worth noting this venue played host to massive PPV’s like UFC 257: Poirier vs Mcgregor 2 and UFC 267: Blachowicz vs Teixeira.
Is The UFC Going Back to Fight Island?
The easiest way to answer this is yes, however, as the pandemic wanes, look for the exclusivity of Fight Island to fade too. The strict restrictions will probably be more of a thing of the past, and with crowds allowed back, look forward to even potentially attending an event live in Abu Dhabi.
The UFC usually travels to each region of the world strategically, involving fighters from that region throughout the fight card and most of the time in the main event too. Also, with the deal they penned in 2019 with the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism the UFC is obligated to bring one PPV a year at least to Abu Dhabi: so we’re guaranteed at least one trip back to Fight Island this year in 2022.
The UFC Events of Fight Island
- UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal
- UFC on ESPN 13: Kattar vs. Ige
- UFC on ESPN+ 30: Figueirdo vs. Benavidez 2
- UFC on ESPN 14: Whittaker vs. Till
- UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa
- UFC on ESPN 16: Holm vs. Aldana
- UFC on ESPN+ 37: Moraes vs. Sandhagen
- UFC on ESPN+ 38: Ortega vs. TKZ
- UFC 254 : Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje
- UFC on ABC 1: Holloway vs. Kattar
- UFC on ESPN 20: Chiesa vs. Magny
- UFC 257: Poirier vs. Mcgregor 2
- UFC 267: Blachowicz vs. Teixeira
When you look at it on paper, it’s insane to see the catalog of amazing events the UFC put on in Abu Dhabi. With moments like the Usman vs. Masvidal fight being made on barely a week’s notice, to “The Last Sylebender” brutally demolishing Paulo Costa, and a legend in Khabib Nurmagomedov retiring at UFC 254, it’s safe to say White’s gamble fully paid off. With that being said, it’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as memorable moments go.
Here is a look at Fight Island’s greatest moments…
Jiri Prochazka Debuts With a Bang
Fighting Volkan Oezdemir in your UFC debut is no easy task, but Jiri Prochazka would make it look easy. Showing off his unique style, Prochazka kept the UFC veteran guessing before an overhand right in the second round would secure the KO/TKO finish for “Denisa”. This was on the UFC 251 card and garnered Prochazka a $50k performance bonus for his efforts.
Volkanovski Dethrones a Featherweight Icon in Max Holloway
This was one of the biggest upsets of Fight Island, and it caused such an uproar in the MMA community, and also inspired one of the greatest rivalries the featherweight division has ever seen.
Coming into UFC 251, Max Holloway was five title fight victories deep into his legacy as the featherweight champ. Alex Volkanovski was riding a 17 fight win streak that included seven UFC wins.
The battle was extremely close, and people were pretty amazed at how evenly the two fighters were skilled. Volkanovski would ultimately find the upper hand by landing a litany of leg kicks to get ahead on the scorecards. By the time five rounds passed, “Alexander the Great” outstruck “Blessed” 139-111, while also landing three takedowns. Securing the victory on two of the judges’ scorecards and defeating Holloway by split-decision to gain the UFC featherweight championship.
Chimaev Mania Erupts
Khamzat Chimaev burst onto the scene and made his debut at UFC on ESPN 13 against John Phillips. It was a massacre. “Borz” would outstrike Phillips 124-2 before submitting him with a second-round D’arce choke. It was one of the most one-sided fights in history potentially, and Chimaev wasn’t done there.
Literally a week later, “Borz” would brutalize another opponent. This time it was Rhys Mckee, who would literally land zero strikes against Chimaev’s 68 total. Securing the KO/TKO finish just a week after his emphatic debut would really add to his growing hype as well. Somewhere, somehow, the “I Smesh” meme would also be created, and this would basically seal the deal as far as Chimaev becoming the UFC’s next mainstream icon.
After two big wins on fight island back to back, we wouldn’t see “Borz” come back to Abu Dhabi for over a year. When he did, it was for UFC 267 and a fight with the tough prospect Jingliang Li. Of course, Chimaev would “smesh” and submit his opponent in the first round, keeping his win streak alive and furthering “Khamzat Mania”.
What’s In the Bag?
In one of the more interesting memories of Fight Island, we come to its biggest mystery… What’s in the bag?
UFC fighter Ottman Azaitar violated the sanctity of the “bubble” when he gave his UFC wristbands to “outsiders”. One of those unknown outsiders was able to infiltrate Fight Island, literally scale a hotel balcony, and drop off a mysterious bag. The contents of which still to this day have not been disclosed.
The undefeated Azaitar received major repercussions due to this, and his fight against Matt Frevola at Fight Island would be canceled. Despite many rumors about his impending release, the UFC actually opted to give him a chance and didn’t fire him despite his wrongdoings.
To this day, it stands the only true mystery from Fight Island, and we may never get an answer as Azaitar has gone on record saying he will never tell.
Jan Blachowicz Wins Gold
At UFC 253 on Fight Island, two light heavyweight monsters went head to head for the vacant title.
In one corner, the man many believed to have beaten Jon Jones at UFC 247: Dominick Reyes. A former NFL prospect, Reyes brought a fearsome level of speed and athleticism to the table in addition to some one-punch knockout power.
In the other, Jan Blachowicz. A long-time UFC veteran, Blachowicz had experienced his fair share of ups-and-downs heading into the Reyes fight. However, he was entering the matchup in arguably the greatest form of his entire career. Riding a three-fight win streak that featured two one-punch knockouts in his wins over Luke Rockhold and Corey Anderson respectively.
Battering his way to victory, the “Polish Power” was too much for Reyes, who crumbled in the second round losing via KO/TKO. And there it was, despite his ups-and-downs Blachowwicz would finally capture his first UFC title, and in terrific fashion.
Israel Adesanya Humiliates Paulo Costa at UFC 253
The beef was real and tensions were high. Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa had a vehement dislike of one another.
A lot of trash was talked and fans expected an exciting bout between the technical sniper Adesanya and the big brawler Costa. The fight would be very exciting, but very one-sided too.
“The Last Stylebender” would pick “The Eraser” apart. Landing vicious leg kicks, head kicks, and punches. After two rounds, Costa couldn’t take anymore, and Izzy would find the finish. Even more humiliating, Adesanya would dry-hump Costa from the back, even establishing dominance in the animal world too…
Cory Sandhagen Lands Vicious Spinning Wheel Kick on Marlon Moraes
After suffering a crushing defeat to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 250, Corey Sandhagen was looking to bounce back.
Taking on Marlon Moraes was no walk in the park either. Moraes came into the match 4-1 in his last five, and he was a perennial bantamweight elite. Sure, after his last fight people thought the decision win over Jose Aldo should’ve gone the other way, but Moraes was the real deal.
Well, “The Sandman” meant business. He was coming into that octagon to take Moraes’ head off and he did exactly that. Timing a vicious spinning wheel kick perfectly and flat-lining Moraes for the world to see.
Sandhagen with the spinning wheel kick KO! #UFCFightIsland5 pic.twitter.com/py3PbiQCLQ
— MMA mania (@mmamania) October 11, 2020
Brian Ortega 2.0 Debuts
After taking almost two years off after a grueling defeat to Max Holloway, Brian Ortega was back and ready to show the world his improvements.
Facing “The Korean Zombie” Chang Sung Jung, “T-City” would prove that the last two years were spent getting better. Ortega impressed the world with his newly polished striking game, and the term “Ortega 2.0” would be coined after his decision victory over TKZ.
Khabib Nurmagomedov Retires at UFC 254
The retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov might just be one of the most emotional in UFC history.
After steamrolling his way through the lightweight division and enjoying undefeated success, tragedy struck. Nurmagomedov’s dad would pass away, and leave “The Eagle” and his family grieving ahead of am upcoming fight against Justin Gaethje.
This wouldn’t stop a monster like Khabib though. He rag-dolled Gaethje and even spared him a broken arm when he switched from an armbar to triangle choke to secure the submission victory.
When asked about this, Nurmagomedov said he knew Gaethje wouldn’t tap, and didn’t want to break his arm in front of Gaethje’s parents. So he switched to a choke and opted to put him asleep rather than break a limb.
“The Diamond’s” Revenge
Dustin Poirier notched the biggest win of his career at UFC 257.
Facing down Conor Mcgregor, it must’ve been a huge moment. In their first fight back in 2014 Poirier got smashed in the first round and finished. Now, he was looking to prove that was a fluke and beat “The Notorious” in front of the world at Fight Island.
The first round was chaotic and thrilling. Both men came out pushing the pace and good shots were landed on both sides. The boxing of Mcgregor was glorious and he seemed to daze “The Diamond” at times. Poirier on the other hand was doing a splendid job of mixing things up and he was working his calf kick to near perfection.
Then, in the second round, it all came together. Poirier had Mcgregor’s leg badly damaged, and it hindered the mobility of “The Notorious”. Eventually, hard shots from “The Diamond” would have Mcgregor hurt and Poirier would swarm to earn the finish. Literally beating Mcgregor into the ground and the realm of unconsciousness.
What are your favorite moments from the UFC’s fight island so far? Drop them in the comments below!