UFC 254’s organizers are consider moving the event to an 18,000 seater arena and letting some fans in: ‘We’d love for it to happen’

  • UFC 254 is the most significant combat sports event of the year as it brings together the lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Justin Gaethje in the main event.
  • It is the finale of the UFC's second residency on Fight Island, with its second run in the quarantined Yas Island bubble in Abu Dhabi spanning six weeks.
  • The UFC works with the Abu Dhabi department of culture and tourism (DCT) when it comes to its international, pandemic era, events in the Middle East.
  • And a DCT official told Insider on Thursday that they are exploring the possibility of switching venues to the city's Etihad Arena, and letting fans in under a "partial fan allowance."
  • It would be the first time since March when fans have been able to attend a live UFC event, but it involves complex safety protocols which is why an official announcement is yet to be made.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

FIGHT ISLAND — UFC 254 organizers are considering moving the event to an 18,000 seater arena and allowing some fans to attend the event, a tourism official told Insider this week.

"We'd love for it to happen," Saeed Al Saeed, the marketing director for Abu Dhabi's tourism department told Insider.

It would be the first fan-attended UFC show since Weili Zhang disfigured Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a hard-fought slobberknocker at Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena on March 8.

A lightweight unification between the reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and the interim titleholder Justin Gaethje headlines UFC 254 more than seven months later on October 24.

It is scheduled to take place at the behind-closed-doors Flash Forum on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, inside a quarantined bubble the local government purpose-built for the UFC's international events.

Every Fight Island event so far has been held at the Flash Forum but even though UFC 254 is eight days away, officials at Abu Dhabi's department of culture and tourism (DCT) are exploring the possibility of moving the event to the nearby Etihad Arena — a new construction the DCT also built with the UFC in mind.

To the side of the UFC's beachside training Octagon on Yas Beach on Thursday, DCT marketing director Saeed Al Saeed told Insider that there "could be" fans at a new venue next week.

There are logistical challenges that come with switching arenas at late notice, moreso when you factor in the precautions necessary during a global pandemic.

"We proved at Fight Island in July and the Return to Fight Island that health and safety are our top priorities for everyone involved," Al Saaed told us.

"What we're looking at now is if we're able to move venues. The arena is not within the safe zone.

"So if we're able to have the fight there without compromising the safety of the bubble that would be one, then getting people into the arena without having them interact to have the proper safety measures and protocols in place to get them in and out without again compromising the bubble.

"It's not just us, the staff in Abu Dhabi, it's everyone who's traveled to experience the safe zone — they're our responsibility.

"So if we're saying we're going to get people outside the bubble into the same physical structure that [media, UFC staff, and athletes] are in, we have to make sure there's no compromise, zero-risk, and we've mitigated all of these potential breaches."

This is what the Flash Forum looks like:

The Flash Forum.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Here's what the newly-built Etihad Arena looks like:

The Etihad Arena.
Photo by Etihad Arena

This is what it could look like inside, albeit for a basketball match rather than a UFC event:

Inside the Etihad Arena.
Photo by Etihad Arena

A source with direct knowledge of the plans for allowing fans told Insider that, if the event were to have an audience, each attendee would have to present a negative COVID-19 test with 48 hours validity.

Other safety measures would include transporting the fans to the venue on sanitized buses, and then through different entrances.

Social distancing measures of two meters between each fan group would also be in place, there would be screens between fans and the Octagon, and there would be a staggered exit system back to buses to transport fans to a drop-off point.

Al Saeed also confirmed to Insider that if the venue switch were to take place it would be a partial capacity rather than a maximum attendance.

He did not give an indication of how many fans might be able to attend if the plans go ahead.

"Everyone must be safe when they leave Fight Island." he said. "We'd love for it to happen but we will not compromise on health and safety."

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