- By Matthew Smith
Image: UFC Official
When the coronavirus outbreak was first recognised as a global pandemic, a lot of the sporting world was put on standstill, however the UFC managed to keep this break to a minimum with events being held in Florida and the UFC Apex Facility in Nevada. Across other major MMA promotions such as Bellator and ONE Championship it took slightly longer for the action to resume, however both are now back underway behind closed doors and have looked to get straight back into it with some very strong fight cards. With the PFL’s unique MMA tournament structure, they were unable to continue with their season for 2020 but it is yet to be seen whether the promotion will go ahead with any single events before the end of the year to showcase exciting new signings such as Rory MacDonald and Justin Willis.
As travel restrictions were heightened over time across the world, the number of athletes available to fight quickly dwindled with many being trapped in their home nation. Having announced that the UFC had secured an island for UFC events to continue taking place, the rumours began about where the island was or whether it was in fact real. On the 9th June, Dana White officially revealed that Fight Island was very real and announced that Yas Island in Abu Dhabi would become the temporary home for the UFC, the venue previously used for UFC 242. For the first time in a few months, the UFC was able to hold fights featuring fighters outside of the United States with chartered flights coming into the island from Brazil, Russia, Australia, UK, and USA.
The marquee event held on Fight Island was without a doubt UFC 251 with 3 title fights on a single card. The event was originally scheduled to take place in June in Perth, Australia, but after a complete overhaul of the card with numerous fights cancelled and other fights made on short notice, the UFC pulled together a card made of a number of fights that had been cancelled in the last few months (including the rematch between former champions Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade).
The event faced another hurdle late on as title contender Gilbert Burns, scheduled to be challenging Kamaru Usman for the Welterweight title in the main event, tested positive for Covid-19 before flying out to the island. With less than a week left until the event, the UFC was able to bring in a late replacement in Jorge Masvidal. As cruel as it was for Burns to lose his opportunity at the title, the MMA world went into a frenzy over the late notice fight with Usman and Masvidal and there was suddenly a lot more heat on the main event for UFC 251.
Despite a few unfortunate casualties to the strict Covid-19 testing that took place prior to all events, the UFC has managed to hold 4 successful events including 4 title fights. No sport has been quite as exciting with the lack of fans in stadiums, however the silence during fights in MMA has been a highly different experience. As a fan, it has been interesting to be able to truly hear the resonating impact of every shot landed and to be able to hear coaches talking to their fighters, and in some circumstances the fighters talking to each other, has provided a great insight into what the fighters go through during the 15 or 25 minutes of a fight.
Other countries in the Middle Eastern region have also been investing heavily in into the combat sports world. Bahrain has had great success hosting the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) Amateur World Championships for the last 3 years. This has included the country winning numerous medals in the competition as the talent pool for Middle Eastern fighters grows stronger. Saudi Arabia also recently played host to one of the biggest Pay-Per-View events of the year when Anthony Joshua fought Andy Ruiz in the rematch for the heavyweight title MMA fans should certainly look out for a lot more events and fighters in the UAE and Middle East in the very near future.
There are now currently no more UFC events scheduled to take place on Fight Island, however, as Abu Dhabi continues to invest in sporting events, expect to see a lot more MMA action out of the Emirates and the Middle East with more fighters from the region, and major events to come.