Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena will stage its inaugural events later this month with fans in attendance for three Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight cards.

The mixed martial arts organisation and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) made the announcement today (Friday), marking the latest development in the ongoing relationship between the two parties.

This year’s UFC live event series will kick off with the third instalment of the Fight Island series on Yas Island, featuring three events in seven days and a “limited number” of fans at Etihad Arena. UFC Fight Night cards will be held on January 16 and 20, before the main event on January 24. UFC 257 will be headlined by the return of Conor McGregor in a rematch against Dustin Poirier.

These events will mark the first UFC shows with fans in attendance since COVID-19 took hold in March 2020. Speaking in November after UFC 255, UFC president Dana White had said he would not be interested in staging events in partially filled arenas or stadiums.

However, White said today: “I’m pumped to start the year with a straight week of great fights – Saturday, Wednesday and Sunday – for fight fans all over the world with Fight Island Triple Header. Following two highly-successful editions of UFC Fight Island and the recent Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to host major international events in a safe and secure environment.”

In June, the UFC announced that Abu Dhabi would be the destination for its much-touted Fight Island concept. Fight Island was put forward by White as a means for the MMA promotion to use its international fighters, for whom entering the United States had been an issue due to restrictions relating to COVID-19.

The UFC’s deal with DCT Abu Dhabi has seen events held at the Flash Forum venue on Yas Island, one of the Emirate’s most popular leisure, shopping and entertainment destinations. The Fight Island deal came after UFC and DCT Abu Dhabi in 2019 entered into a five-year partnership to bring events to the emirate. UFC 242: Khabib vs Poirier, the first event held under the new agreement, attracted more than 14,000 fans to Yas Island in September 2019.

In December, DCT Abu Dhabi announced the reopening of the emirate to tourism, as well as a gradual return to event hosting, with strict guidelines in place that seek to ensure the safety of the wider Abu Dhabi community.

To align with these guidelines, the athletes, coaches, UFC staff and resort employees will again be in a safe zone on Yas Island for the latest raft of events. There will also be additional restricted zones which will allow for fans to safely attend. All three events will be held at the new 18,000-capacity Etihad Arena, which Etihad Airways acquired naming rights to in January 2020.

Limited tickets for the three events went on sale today, starting at AED595 (£119/€132/$162) for the first two cards and AED795 for UFC 257. “A third staging of UFC Fight Island in January not only cements Abu Dhabi’s standing as a world-class global destination for sport, but as one of the safest,” said H.E Ali Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing at DCT Abu Dhabi.

“Following the reopening of our emirate to international tourism, we are delighted to welcome fans to Etihad Arena, our new world-class events and entertainment venue on Yas Island. Abu Dhabi’s collaborative and coordinated response in tackling the spread of the coronavirus has inspired pioneering health measures to ensure a safe and secure environment. 

“The UFC Fight Island Triple Header on Yas Island this month will once again shine the spotlight on why the UAE is the world’s coolest winter destination, where visitors to Abu Dhabi can safely experience the emirate’s rich and diverse mix of culture, entertainment and lifestyle attractions.”