The scene imagined by Dana White seemed crazy but it also looked heady to fans of mixed martial arts.
An octagon was located amid palm trees swaying over a white sand beach. The waves crashed against the shore as several combatants exchanged blows inside the cage and under the tropical sun.
Months later, the project that is now known as the Island of Fights is real, and it is ready to host the first lawsuits.
And although the place is not exactly the tropical paradise that its name evokes, the octagon installed inside an air-conditioned arena on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is also confined in a kind of bubble, which seems difficult to burst.
“It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever undertaken,” said White, the owner of the UFC. “My mentality has always dictated that there is a solution for every problem.”
The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented problem for modern professional sports. However, White took advantage of the mobility and dimension advantages that the UFC has and resumed his competitions faster than other leagues and tours.
White said she never worried about whether it would be wise to continue offering shows. He was only concerned about what he would get permission for and how he could organize events with additional security measures.
The UFC went only eight weeks without offering performances, before hosting eight events in Jacksonville and Las Vegas. However, White knew that he would soon run out of fighters based in the United States, unless he fought in a location less affected by travel restrictions.
So he teamed up with his old friends from the Abu Dhabi government to create an oasis from the fighting. Yas Island is a modern tourist destination, with amusement parks, shopping centers and a Formula One track.
Dozens of gladiators and their teams have already traveled from different parts of the world to the Island of Fights, where they relax in luxury hotels and train for their fights.
The Isle of Fights will host four shows in 14 days, beginning with three championship bouts in the UFC 251 event, scheduled for this weekend. Although the UFC will return to Las Vegas in August, White told The Associated Press that he would be holding numerous fights at Yas this year and beyond.
“The Island of Fights is something indefinite for now,” commented the magnate. “I love the place. On this trip, I will probably look for houses or a condo to buy there. There are amazing restaurants and hotels. It’s a great place”.
On the island, nearly six square miles (15.54 square kilometers) have been set aside as a “buffer zone” for some 2,000 people involved with the production of UFC matches for the next three weeks. People within the area had to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Everyone within this area has been through various coronavirus tests.
The fighting promoting organization follows the same health and safety protocols that have seemed to work splendidly for the past two months. The UFC has announced only a few positive cases of COVID-19, with minimal interruptions to the calendar and no significant outbreaks.
White admits it has significant advantages over team sports organizations.
In his shows, no more than 20 or 24 athletes are needed. These are competitions between individuals, coordinated by an experienced and trained group of workers.
The UFC even handles all television production of his fights for ESPN and its international clients.
“Athletes who get involved in combat sports are more aware of making sure they have a clean environment,” said Lawrence Epstein, UFC director of operations. ”Whether it’s bacterial infections or other things that can happen to you if you don’t clean your space and don’t start with your own hygiene, we’re used to staying a little safer than everyone else. And our athletes have gotten used to undergoing a tremendous amount of testing.
Epstein says the UFC is eager to help any other sports entity that wants advice. He considered that his plans are “open source”.
White also knows that his methods would hardly be feasible in other leagues.
“I have 600 fighters on contracts,” White said. “The NFL has God knows how many players (almost 2,000). It is very difficult to control these people. They are adults, they can do whatever they want. I honestly don’t know how to give advice to any of these other guys. For these leagues the problem is more financial than otherwise, a colossal financial burden on the sports leagues. They have lost income from tickets, food sales, drinks, parking, it is devastating ”.
The UFC is supported by its television rights agreement with ESPN, for 1.5 billion dollars, in addition to the income from the sale of fights in the form of “pay-per-view”, which would be strengthened this year.
As the NFL and college football seek ways to get fans to the stadiums this fall, White has the luxury of running his business under the assumption that there will be no more crowds in the stands.
“It’s something we don’t even consider for now,” he said. AP (HN)