(Reuters) - The UFC’s “Fight Island” venue comes into operation on Saturday as UFC 251 takes place in Abu Dhabi, with three title fights and a set of health and safety measures in place due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
The card is the first of four to be held at a purpose-built facility which is part of a “safe zone” on Yas Island, east of the city of Abu Dhabi and close to the airport.
The zone contains the fight venue and training facilities as well as several hotels and restaurants, and access is strictly controlled.
Fighters have been instructed to gather at one of a number of departure points to be tested and quarantined before travelling to the United Arab Emirates, with further tests on-site both before and after the event.
With the sporting calendar virtually wiped out by the pandemic, Mixed Martial Arts was one of the first sports in the U.S. to stage events again, with three cards in Jacksonville, Florida in May followed by five at the UFC’s APEX facility in Las Vegas.
Despite the organisers’ best efforts, COVID-19 has still had an impact on the UFC 251 card as contender Gilbert Burns was ruled out of his welterweight title clash with Kamaru Usman following a positive test for the virus.
He will be replaced in the main event by the hugely popular Jorge Masvidal, while Alexander Volkanovski puts his featherweight title on the line against Max Holloway and Petr Yan and Jose Aldo go head-to-head for the vacant bantamweight belt.
The venue will host further events on July 15, July 18 and July 25 before UFC returns to Las Vegas. Volkanovski, however, said the venue makes little difference to the fighters.
“I usually adapt to whatever is in front of me, I just go through the process,” he told reporters at a media event on Wednesday.
Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Toby Davis