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SPORT

How the UFC and Abu Dhabi got fans back around the octagon

Words by Nathan Irvine

Crowd pleaser

As Covid continues to cause havoc in our lives, the fight for normality is already underway. One constant that fight fans have been able to take solace in is an almost weekly UFC event. Hosting these is no mean feat. And things are about to get even better this weekend as UFC Fight Island returns to Abu Dhabi and for the first time in almost twelve months, fans will be cageside.

The partnership between the UFC and Abu Dhabi has resulted in an almost permanent fixture on Yas Island. With the meticulous planning of the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, the UFC has returned to some form of normality. But just how did they manage to start and maintain a Covid-free location in one of the country's hottest tourist spots? We spoke to Nour Al Harmoudi , UFC Associate Project Manager, DCT- Abu Dhabi to find out.

For the fans

The connection between Abu Dhabi and the UFC isn't just a recent thing.

"Abu Dhabi’s relationship with UFC dates back more than a decade, with UFC holding its first event in the Emirate in 2010, before returning in 2014. Now in its third year, the partnership with UFC has proved to be one of our most successful ventures in recent years." Nour Al Harmoudi begins.

She continues "When the world was at a stand-still, the cooperation and innovation between the two entities really came to the fore. Our ability to continue welcoming UFC fighters from around the world to a safe and secure environment to compete is evidenced by the two previous editions of Fight Island in 2020".

So what did they learn from last year's events? Al Harmoudi says "When planning events we never seek to step and repeat and always strive to do things bigger and better. It was always our plan for fans to safely return to UFC and other live events in Abu Dhabi."

"Being able to safely welcome spectators back to live events, and into the Etihad Arena for the first time, for UFC Fight Island is true testament to the strength of our relationship and collaboration with UFC. It really is a momentous moment." She concludes.

"This decision [to welcome fans back] was not taken lightly" Al Harmoudi adds. "We worked with all our partners to implement precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of all fans, fighters, event personnel and all stakeholders during what this seven-day, three-event spectacular."

Laying down the law

Putting Covid precautions in place was also necessary for a gathering of a crowd. "Our plan mandates all ticket holders must present a negative PCR test, with 48 hours validity on arrival at Etihad Arena, along with their ticket for inspection." Al Harmoudi confirms. "Thermal scanning will also be in operation. Anyone showing signs of high fever or without a valid PCR test will be denied entry. Health and safety is our priority."

Inside the arena and during the fights, there is also a set of rules for fight fans to follow. "We have created a spectator journey that will allow them to enjoy a memorable experience. Masks are mandatory and once inside the venue spectators will be able to order food and beverage direct to their seats through a dedicated app to minimise people traffic and ensure the health and safety of all inside Etihad Arena." says Al Harmoudi.

UFC Fight Night Holloway vs. Kattar is the first of three fight cards that starts on Saturday, January 16th

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