Abu Dhabi has reinforced its reputation as a world-class destination for sporting events and commitment to the highest standards of health and safety with a ‘memorable’ opening to Return to UFC Fight Island. The colossal five-event mega series, in partnership with UFC®, is taking place on Yas Island from September 27th to October 25th.

Weeks of planning, preparation quarantining, sanitisation and health and safety precautions were rewarded when some of the world’s best athletes took to the Octagon at Flash Forum to deliver an action-packed UFC® 253: ADESANYA vs COSTA, on Sunday, the first event in the highly anticipated series. The mega-event will also feature a further three UFC Fight Nights and UFC® 254: Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje over the next four weeks.

During the past few weeks, the impressive UFC Fight Island™ 6km² safe zone ‘bubble’ on Yas Island, which has become a global benchmark for international event bubbles, has witnessed extensive sanitisation work, approximately 6,500 COVID-19 tests and the implementation of stringent health and safety measures to ensure the well-being of more 2,500 people. This includes all UFC event personnel and essential employees necessary to ensure the operational continuity of Yas Island.

Everything is amazing, from the venue, the infrastructure, the hospitality that we have seen

Dana White UFC President

With the health and safety measures in place, the fighters were able to focus on the competition, and it showed, with an evening of top-class action and a special occasion for Abu Dhabi, UFC® and the watching world, according to Return to Fight Island organisers.

“Through the dedication and commitment of our UFC partners, fighters and our stakeholders to bring Fight Island back, to the support from everybody inside the safe zone in quarantining and adhering to the health and safety measures, we have been able to demonstrate Abu Dhabi’s great capability is a global destination for international events,” said HE Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, Executive Director of Tourism and Marketing at the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi). “Thanks to the hard work and dedication from everybody involved in event, we witnessed a truly memorable evening at UFC® 253.

“What a way to start a series that further positions Abu Dhabi as a leader in the global revival of live sports events. As we prepare to reopen our doors to visitors once again very soon, Return to Fight Island is a testament to the lengths we are prepared to go to, to safeguard the wellbeing of our visitors and deliver unrivalled, unforgettable experiences.”

The fighters themselves have also praised the robust health and safety measures and hospitality in the UFC Fight Island ‘safe zone’, which has been on lockdown for more than three weeks in preparation for the event.

Danilo Marques, who recorded the first victory of Return to Fight Island with victory over Khadis Ibragimov in a light heavyweight clash, described his experience as a “dream come true”.

“It’s the best feeling ever. I’m so proud of myself, my family and friends. I was here in July with my friend who was fighting. That time I was behind the curtain. This time, being part of this event it’s a dream come true,” said the Brazilian. “It feels very good. This place is amazing. It feels very good and to get the first victory really is a dream come true.”

UFC® 253: ADESANYA vs COSTA continued to make history, with Jan Blachowicz beating Dominick Reyes to win the light heavyweight title, the Polish fighter admitting afterwards that Abu Dhabi will now have a special place in his heart.

“I made history in Abu Dhabi. Winning sounds great but it feels even better. I really can’t express it in words, but to win this title is a dream. I will remember this city because of my victory. Thank you, Abu Dhabi,” said Blachowicz.

Israel Adesanya rounded off the evening in style with victory over Paulo Costa in the main event to retain his middleweight title and unbeaten record and admitted he would like to defend it again in Abu Dhabi.

“It feels awesome to win in Abu Dhabi. Bring me back and I will put on another show. No other sport, no other place in the world is doing what we are doing in this pandemic. Everything has been above and beyond to get this done,” said Adesanya.

“I have had strong relations with Abu Dhabi for the past decade, and the work we are putting together with DCT Abu Dhabi is incredible. Looking at the amazing work that we achieved in Fight Island 1 and 2 is amazing, and I cannot express it with words. Everything is amazing, from the venue, the infrastructure, the hospitality that we have seen,” said UFC President Dana White.

The historic Return to Fight Island continues on Sunday, October 4th with UFC FIGHT NIGHT® HOLM vs ALDANA, when American Holly Holm and Mexico’s Irene Aldana square off in the Flash Forum Octagon for the women’s bantamweight belt.

“After the overwhelming success of the inaugural UFC Fight Island™ in July, we analysed the event and looked at how we could make the next one even better. We’ve already seen that with UFC® 253 and this weekend’s event will offer more of the same,” added HE Al Shaiba.

The stringent safety measures will remain in place throughout the duration of Return to Fight Island with everyone inside the safe zone being tested regularly. Abu Dhabi has also led the development of the ‘Go Safe Certification’, a healthy and safety programme which enforces global safety and hygiene standards across the emirate’s hotels, attractions, malls, hospitality facilities and public venues. This supports the emirate’s wider efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, which include widespread testing, city-wide sanitisation, social distancing, and enhanced healthcare services.