Etihad Arena opens with UFC events and fans


UAE Etihad Arena opens Image: Etihad Arena

Fans in restricted numbers will be welcomed back to Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena as it stages its inaugural events later this month – three Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight cards.

This year’s UFC live event series will kick off with the third installment of the Fight Island series on Yas Island, featuring three events in seven days and a “limited number” of fans at Etihad Arena.

UFC Fight Night cards will be held on January 16th and 20th, 2021, before the main event on January 24th. UFC 257 will be headlined by the return of Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor in a rematch against American mixed martial artist Dustin Poirier.

An announcement in this regard was made by the mixed martial arts organization and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) on January 8th marking the latest development in the ongoing relationship between the two parties.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is an American mixed martial arts promotion company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is owned and operated by the Endeavor Group Holdings along with Silver Lake Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and MSD Capital via Zuffa, LLC.

The above events will mark the first UFC shows with in-person attendance since COVID-19 laid a siege to the world in March 2020. UFC President Dana White had said in November last year after UFC 255 that he would not be interested in hosting events in partially filled arenas or stadia.

However, White stated recently, “I’m pumped to start the year with a straight week of great fights – Saturday, Wednesday and Sunday -for fight fans all over the world with Fight Island Triple Header. Following two highly-successful editions of UFC Fight Island and the recent Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to host major international events in a safe and secure environment.”

In June last year, the UFC had announced that Abu Dhabi would be the new address for its much-touted Fight Island concept.

Fight Island was put forward by White as a means for the mixed martial arts promotion to use its international fighters, for whom entering the United States had been an issue as the country is still fighting a relentless battle against COVID-19 and also due to restrictions in place for the deadly disease.

The UFC’s deal with DCT Abu Dhabi has seen events held at the Flash Forum venue on Yas Island, one of the Emirate’s most popular leisure, shopping and entertainment destinations. The Fight Island deal came after UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi in 2019 struck a five-year partnership deal to bring events to the Emirate.

UFC 242 saw a clash between the Russian mixed martial artist Khabib Abdulmanapovich Nurmagomedov and Poirier, the first event held under the new agreement. It drew more than 14,000 fans to Yas Island in September 2019.

In December 2019, DCT Abu Dhabi announced the reopening of the Emirate to tourism, as well as a gradual return to event hosting, with strict COVID-19 guidelines in place that seek to ensure the safety of the wider Abu Dhabi community.

To keep in sync with these guidelines, the athletes, coaches, UFC staff and resort employees will again be in a safe zone on Yas Island for the latest raft of events. There will also be additional restricted zones which will ensure fans’ security and safety. All three events will be held at the new 18,000-capacity Etihad Arena, which Etihad Airways acquired naming rights to in January 2020.

Limited tickets for the three events went on sale on January 8th, starting at AED595 (£119/€132/$162) for the first two cards and AED795 for UFC 257.

“A third staging of UFC Fight Island in January not only cements Abu Dhabi’s standing as a world-class global destination for sport, but as one of the safest,” said H.E. Ali Al Shaiba, Executive Director, Tourism and Marketing, DCT Abu Dhabi.

Added Al Shaiba, “Following the reopening of our Emirate to international tourism, we are delighted to welcome fans to Etihad Arena, our new world-class events and entertainment venue on Yas Island. Abu Dhabi’s collaborative and coordinated response in tackling the spread of the coronavirus has inspired pioneering health measures to ensure a safe and secure environment.”

He concluded by stating, “The UFC Fight Island Triple Header on Yas Island this month will once again shine the spotlight on why the UAE is the world’s coolest winter destination, where visitors to Abu Dhabi can safely experience the Emirate’s rich and diverse mix of culture, entertainment and lifestyle attractions.”

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