‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

The ring where the fighters will meet. (Photo/ UAE’s department of culture and tourism)
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Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.


Five things you need to know ahead of the Saudi Pro League’s Round 25

Updated 13 August 2020

Five things you need to know ahead of the Saudi Pro League’s Round 25

  • As we approach the start of Round 25 tomorrow afternoon, we take a close look at the top five things SPL fans needs to know ahead of the round’s first match between Al-Fateh and Abha

With only six rounds remaining until the curtain closes on the longest-ever Saudi Pro League (SPL) season, there’s still plenty to play for on both ends of the table. The first two rounds since the restart did not disappoint and were filled with excitement and shock results, giving the fans the perfect dose of football after many months of absence.

As we approach the start of Round 25 tomorrow afternoon, we take a close look at the top five things SPL fans needs to know ahead of the round’s first match between Al-Fateh and Abha.
 
Winner takes all

Draws have not been an option so far with teams going all-out in the remaining rounds in the hope of achieving their objectives and bringing joy to their supporters at home. In the opening 16 matches since the restart, just one draw was recorded between Al-Raed and Al-Wehda. Meanwhile, fans watching from afar enjoyed a goalfest with 46 goals finding the back of the net, with an average of 2.8 goals per match.
 
Champions League qualification battle heating-up

The race to the Champions League spots has been the story of the season so far, with just five points separating eighth-placed Ettifaq and fourth-placed Al-Wehda as things stand. Al-Ahli’s back-to-back wins strengthened their hopes of securing their position in the top four. Meanwhile, Makkah-side Al-Wehda have struggled lately with just one point from a possible six since the restart.

Two massive showdowns will take place in Round 25 when Al-Ahli visit Al-Majmaah to face off Al-Faisaly. The Jeddah giants will be hoping to make it three out of three. Meanwhile, Al-Faisaly will be eyeing the sought-after fourth position with just two points separating them from it. Al-Nassr will play host to Al-Wehda as the Riyadh team will be aiming to continue its championship push on leaders Al-Hilal. Jose Daniel Carreno’s men will be hoping to find their winning ways with their first three points since the restart.
 
Fight for survival continues

The drama at the top of the table may sometimes divert attention away from the action at the bottom end of the league, but that’s certainly not the case in the 19/20 campaign. SPL debutants Damac and Al-Adalah are desperate for a renewed season in the top flight, and they’ve both showed a strong will to do so by recording wins in Round 24.

With 18 points left to play for till the end of the campaign, just seven points separate eleventh-placed Al-Fayha with Al-Adalah at the bottom of the table.

A North African battle for the top playmaker award

The top four players with the highest number of assists this season all share one thing in common — their North African heritage. Al-Faisaly’s Youssef El Jebli, who is Dutch with Moroccan origins, currently leads the way with 11 assists and 46 chances created to his name. Meanwhile, Al-Hazm’s Driss Fetouhi (Tunisia) comes in second with nine assists, Al-Nassr’s Nordin Amrabat (Morocco) and Abha’s Saad Beguir (Tunisia) follow with eight assists each.

Al-Hilal can cement their position at the top

With nine points separating Riyadh neighbors Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, Razvan Lucescu enter Round 25 with confidence as they take on 16th-placed Al-Adalah away from home. Despite the comfortable position that they find themselves in at this stage of the season, the league leaders have a challenging set of matches remaining until the end of the season with crucial trips to King Abdullah Sports City to face off in-form Al-Ahli and King Abdulaziz Sports City against Al-Wehda. They will also play host to Riyadh neighbors Al-Shabab, Champions League qualification hopefuls Al-Faisaly and 12th-placed Al-Hazm.

 Recognizing that fans are unable to attend games for the remaining eight rounds of fixtures, the SPL has developed its #OurLeagueIsBack campaign, which allows fans to share their support online, with videos and messages then being shown across stadiums on match days.