Abu Dhabi is once again demonstrating its readiness to welcome visitors this weekend with a successful opening night for the action-packed, week-long UFC FIGHT ISLAND Triple Header.
Adding to the history of the occasion, the event was held at the all-new Etihad Arena on Yas Island.
Stringent health and safety protocols were in place at the Emirate’s latest world-class entertainment venue, underlining Abu Dhabi’s coordinated and collaborative response to Covid-19, as the Etihad Arena made its debut as the new international home of UFC.
A limited number of ticketholders took their seats for an enthralling UFC FIGHT NIGHT: HOLLOWAY VS KATTAR, the world’s first UFC event to welcome fans since the beginning of the pandemic.
In collaboration with health authorities and UFC, a comprehensive spectator ‘journey’ was created to ensure the health and safety of all those involved. Fans at the event adhered to procedures which included presenting a negative Covid-19 test, thermal scanning, mask wearing and social distancing, and they were rewarded with a night of top-class action in the Octagon as UFC began its 2021 schedule in style in the UAE capital.
Following the success of two previous editions of UFC FIGHT ISLAND in the second half of 2020, the opening event of UFC FIGHT ISLAND Triple Header continued to elevate Abu Dhabi’s standing as a global destination for sports and tourism, say organisers.
“This was a truly special occasion for Abu Dhabi and a clear sign of the strength of our partnership with UFC,” said HE Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Executive Director, Tourism and Marketing, at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).
“Following the success of the previous editions of Fight Island, the ultimate goal was always to bring back fans. With hard work, collaboration and coordination across Abu Dhabi government entities, public and private sectors and our UFC partners, we have been able to achieve this, allowing spectators to experience the thrill of live events once again in a safe and secure environment. And what a thrill it has been.
“This is just the beginning. Once again, Abu Dhabi has shown why it is the ideal global destination for sports and tourism. Abu Dhabi is open, and Abu Dhabi is safe and ready to welcome visitors to experience the rich and diverse offering of cultural, sport, and entertainment in the world’s best winter destination, starting with the second of our UFC FIGHT ISLAND Triple Header events on Wednesday.”
The thrill in the arena was amplified by the action in the Octagon, with Holloway, cheered on by vociferous fans, winning a headline bout with a unanimous points decision over Kattar after five rounds of intense action.
UFC President Dana White hailed the “awesome” fans on their return to live events in Abu Dhabi. “The fans were really awesome. They had so much energy, it sounded like there were a lot more people than were actually in there tonight. I look forward to seeing the fans again on Wednesday and Saturday.”
“Thank you, Abu Dhabi for keeping us safe and thank you to the fans for coming out. Make sure you tune in for UFC 257 next week. I’m staying on for it and it’s going to be great. Let’s go,” said Holloway after his victory in the featherweight clash.
That headline bout followed 11 other intense fights, with Austin Lingo making history as the first-ever fighter to win a UFC bout in the Etihad Arena. Afterwards, he said: “It’s awesome to be the first winner in the Etihad Arena, thank you for having me. Thanks for letting me fight here. I love Fight Island; the island, the venue, the hotel, I’ll come here and fight any time.”
“It’s great having fans back. I love having fans in the stands and hearing them cheering, it’s great, blew my mind. I’ve seen my teammates fight with no crowd but I’ve got in there with fans, it was great.”
Elsewhere in the arena, spectators were ecstatic at playing their part in history. Najemddin Al Hadad, from Abu Dhabi, said: “Wow, I’m so excited to be here. To be at the first live event at the arena, and it’s not just any event, it’s the UFC. Wow. What I love most is the precautions they have taken, we’ve had PCR tests, social distancing is in place. I’m so glad that we are back.”
Amin Aldesiyh, from Abu Dhabi, said: “This is my first time at a UFC event, and it is amazing to attend it here in Abu Dhabi, not far away from my house. I am excited to be among the first fans in Etihad Arena, as I followed its development over the past two years, and I am happy that I have made it here today. I feel very safe here. We had to go through three levels of checks for PCR testing and temperature checks, and it is very safe.”
UFC FIGHT ISLAND Triple Header continues with UFC FIGHT NIGHT: Chiesa vs Magny on Wednesday 20 January, when Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny both put their respective three-match winning streaks on the line in the welterweight main event clash on a packed 11-fight card.