First series of Fight Island UFC events wraps up in Abu Dhabi

Several fighters of Middle Eastern heritage competed in the event without fans in the Emirati city on Sunday.

al-monitor Makwan Amirkhani of Finland reacts after his submission victory over Danny Henry in their featherweight fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020, on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by eff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images.

Jul 13, 2020

The Fight Island mixed martial arts (MMA) event went down in an Abu Dhabi arena sans fans on Sunday. It was the second major MMA competition in the Emirati city, and some fighters with Middle Eastern backgrounds captured headlines with their bouts.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event took place on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. The island will host three more sets of fights this month. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there were no fans in attendance on Sunday. The arena was sanitized and fighters were tested before entering the cage. Nigerian-American Kamaru Usman defeated American Jorge Masvidal in the headlining fight.

MMA is a combat sport where fighters utilize a variety of grappling and striking-based martial arts. The victor is either determined via a knockout that the referee calls or by the judges’ decision at the conclusion of the timed rounds. Its popularity has grown in recent years in the Middle East, in part because of undefeated Dagestani fighter and devout Muslim Khabib Nurmagomedov's success.

A few fighters of Middle Eastern heritage competed on Fight Island. Makwan Amirkhani trounced Danny Henry of Scotland via a first-round submission. Amirkhani was born in Iran but grew up in Finland. He is from a Kurdish family and held up both the Finnish and Kurdish flags after his victory. Amirkhani often receives significant praise on Kurdish social media for his brutal takedowns and holds.

Volkan Oezdemir from Switzerland lost his fight to Jiri Prochazka of the Czech Republic after Prochazka knocked him out with two brutal punches to the face. Oezdemir’s father is from Turkey. Some Kurdish outlets say he is of Kurdish heritage, though Oezdemir has said little on the topic.

The UFC signaled a desire to continue holding events early on in the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Abu Dhabi hosted Nurmagomedov’s highly viewed fight against American Dustin Poirier, making Fight Island the second major MMA event in the Gulf city.

Sunday’s fights took place without major issues amid the continued virus threat, and Yas Island will host three more fights in July. This bodes well for Abu Dhabi as a future center for MMA and for the United Arab Emirates economic situation as a whole. The Emirati economy has been hit hard by business closures, the oil crisis and the downturn in global travel resulting from COVID-19.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings