Fight Island in Abu Dhabi concludes Saturday with main event featuring Khabib Nurmagomedov

The undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov will face American Justin Gaethje in an isolated section of Abu Dhabi's Yas Island, which was set up to host the major mixed martial arts event.

al-monitor In this handout image provided by UFC, a general view of the Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island prior to the UFC 251 event on July 12, 2020, on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images.

Oct 21, 2020

Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island mixed martial arts (MMA) competition will finish its latest rendition with a highly anticipated bout on Saturday.

The Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC) series is a major endeavor for the Emirati hospitality industry that has been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Return to UFC Fight Island began on Yas Island on Sept. 26, after which there were additional fights every week. On Saturday, the series will conclude with a match between the undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov and American Justin Gaethje. The first Fight Island event took place in July.

MMA is a combat sport where opponents fight in a series of timed rounds. The fight is won either by knockout or by a judges’ decision at the end. The US-based UFC is the premier league for the sport.

Fight Island is an attempt to hold sporting events amid the continued coronavirus crisis. Only UFC fighters and staff, event employees and Yas Island workers are allowed to enter. Abu Dhabi authorities refer to the part of Yas Island hosting the fight as a safe zone. The roughly 4-square-mile (6-kilometer) area is locked down and surrounded by police checkpoints, according to the Visit Abu Dhabi website.

Fighters must also test negative for COVID-19 before coming to the island, according to the UFC.

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai were major international tourist destinations before the pandemic. Dubai is currently welcoming international visitors, but Abu Dhabi remains mostly closed to tourism. Many sectors of the economy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been hurt this year, particularly during the strict lockdowns of the spring.

Saturday’s fight is of particular interest to fans in the Middle East because of Nurmagomedov. The undefeated grappling and takedown specialist is from the autonomous Dagestan region of Russia. He is a devout Muslim and is known for being open about his faith. Nurmagomedov fought on Yas Island before when he defeated Justin Poirier in September 2019.

MMA is popular in the Middle East, and Fight Island’s start at 10:00 p.m. Abu Dhabi time will make it easily watchable for fans in the region. Several fighters of Middle Eastern origin participated in the first Fight Island event in July.

The fights are taking place during a historically high period of daily COVID-19 cases in the UAE.

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