Abu Dhabi's 'Fight Island' could become a lot more familiar if COVID-19 shuts down Las Vegas again

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·4 min read

LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak took dramatic and early action in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and on March 17 took the unprecedented step of closing the state’s casinos.

Nevada is a state built on tourism, and with the casinos closed, the economy struggled. But Nevada’s number of cases while the casinos were closed remained among the lowest in the country.

On June 4, the casinos reopened and several days afterward, confirmed positive tests for COVID-19 began to rise dramatically. There were 153 new cases reported on June 3, the day before the casinos reopened. According to statistics from the Southern Nevada Health District, that spiked to 692 new cases on June 30 and was at 562 on July 3.

That is beginning to stoke fear among some that Sisolak may be forced to close the casinos again.

The under-construction Flash Forum on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. (Courtesy of the UFC)
The under-construction Flash Forum on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

But if that happens, the UFC will continue to roll forward and put on events. The UFC is spending July in Abu Dhabi at the so-called “Fight Island,” where it will put on UFC 251 on Saturday followed by Fight Night shows on July 15, July 18 and July 25.

It has nine shows planned for its Apex facility on its campus in Las Vegas in August, but if the governor issues another stay-at-home order, the UFC will return to Fight Island indefinitely.

White told Yahoo Sports he’d always planned to keep Fight Island open and would run shows there, but if the situation in Nevada gets to the point where the state athletic commission quits permitting shows, Fight Island would become the new home of the UFC until it was safe to return to the U.S.

The current plan is to alternate between Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, but it could become Abu Dhabi only if the situation with the coronavirus becomes untenable in Las Vegas. According to the Nevada Independent, daily positivity rate in Nevada is up 17.76 percent and hospitalizations are significantly up. The Independent also reported that the use of ICU beds has increased dramatically. There were 100 patients with COVID-19 in ICU beds on June 22. That more than doubled to 236 on July 6.

Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday there has been no discussion of not moving forward with the closed-system events. White, though, wants to be ready for whatever may happen.

“We’re set up there and this is where I plan on doing fights for the rest of the year and possibly longer,” White said. “I’m hoping Nevada doesn’t shut down again. I’m really hoping it stays open, but you have to at least be aware of the possibility that it might [close]. For us, the good news is that we’ll just stay at Fight Island and do the shows there, so we’re not going anywhere.”

According to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Marketing Department, 1.5 meter passageways at the entrance to Flash Forum where the fights are being held have been retrofitted with sanitizing “mist tunnels” that are said to kill 99 percent of surface bacteria.

The sanitizing “mist tunnel” on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. (Courtesy of the UFC)
The sanitizing “mist tunnel” on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

There will be no crowd and masks will be compulsory inside the venue.

“Over the past two weeks, we’ve been very busy building a safe and secure zone to bring UFC back to Abu Dhabi and, in turn, kick-start international sport and entertainment events again,” said Ali Al Shaiba, the executive director of Tourism and Marketing at DCT Abu Dhabi. “The area of the ‘safe zone’ aims to ensure we can provide a secure environment to host elite sport, but also protect our wider Abu Dhabi community.

“This event is important to us for many reasons, as it allows us to begin the process of bringing back sports and tourism to Abu Dhabi. It signals our readiness to once again host international events and provides us with a learning opportunity to improve and adapt, and efficiently prepare for the scheduled events ahead of us this year.”

UFC COO Lawrence Epstein told Yahoo Sports that Abu Dhabi is building a state-of-the-art new arena, but it is not completed yet, so the UFC fights in July will be held in Flash Forum, a temporary facility constructed for the four events.

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