In a day and age when so many are having their expectations met by disappointment amid a global pandemic, the UFC is exceeding what many thought it was capable of in terms of creating a “bubble” in Abu Dhabi for its UFC 251 “Fight Island” pay-per-view this weekend.
The UFC has successfully held eight events so far in the coronavirus era and has tightened its protocols each time, but the promotion is implementing even more stringent protocols on Fight Island. The UFC’s COVID-19 protocol includes:
- More frequent testing for COVID-19
- Fighters will be relegated to a “safe zone” that is closed to the public
- No in-and-out privileges for those in the “safe zone”
- Face coverings must be worn in public at all times
- Social distancing of 6.5 feet
- Nightly temperature screenings
“It’s going to be the tightest bubble that you could sort of ever produce,” UFC COO Lawrence Epstein told ESPN. “It’s a pretty unique situation on an island with incredible controls over who’s coming in and not letting people come back in once they’ve left.”
This “true bubble” model is more drastic and likely more effective than what took place at the recent events in the United States (Jacksonville and Las Vegas). The UFC hasn’t skipped a beat since returning to action in Jacksonville on May 9, but going international for four cards in July presents a whole other set of obstacles.
Starting with UFC 251 this Saturday, the UFC will hold shows on July 15, July 18, and July 25 on Yas Islan in Abu Dhabi. In Jacksonville, fighters and their corners were tested for COVID-19 once. In Las Vegas, they were tested at least twice. Now, in Abu Dhabi, those involved in each event could be tested up to five times when it’s all said and done.
“As we went into those events we had sort of a saying that the plan is written in pencil,” Epstein said. “With the mindset that it’s gonna change — it’s gonna change for the better with each event and each experience we have.”
The fighters competing this weekend and their corners are already in Abu Dhabi. Most had to travel to one of the four designated anchor cities — Las Vegas, Sao Paulo, London, or Moscow — get tested and quarantine before boarding a charter flight to Abu Dhabi once they got their test results back.
So far, only the card’s initial headliner Gilbert Burns has tested positive for COVID-19. He has since been replaced in the main event by Jorge Masvidal, who will challenge Kamaru Usman for his UFC welterweight title.
The UFC expects to administer about 3,300 tests over the course of the month. According to ESPN, quarantines are enforced via CCTV surveillance. Meals for the fighters and their corners are pre-ordered and delivered to rooms.
One of ESPN’s sources went as far as to call the UFC’s attention to detail “amazing” and “the most thorough protocol I’ve ever seen.” Another source stated, “I poke holes in protocols and processes for a living. They did this one good. Home run.”
What do you think of the job the UFC has done during the coronavirus era? Will Fight Island be a success? We’ll find out soon. But so far, so good.
Pat Donohue has been covering sports for more than 10 years. He is a former Washington Redskins beat reporter and has been covering the University of Maryland football and basketball recruiting and daily beats for Rivals.com since 2013. Pat graduated from Maryland with his master’s degree in journalism and has received bylines in publications such as USA TODAY Sports, The Philadelphia Inquirer, SB Nation, and Yahoo! Sports. As a wrestler for 13 years in Pennsylvania, Pat has a deep appreciation for MMA and a keen understanding of the sport.