Back in July, UFC president Dana White guaranteed to make Fight Island (Yan Island in Abu Dhabi) the new Fight Capital of the World. “This is the only international destination for fights,” White said. “So all the biggest and the baddest fights coming up that we have are going to be here… That’s why I’m saying Abu Dhabi is going to be looked at as the new fight capital of the world…”
So far, White seems to have backed up his bravado — to a degree at least. White and the UFC did bring fighters to Fight Island, starting with former middleweight champion Robert Whitaker headlining Fight Night 174 against contender Darren Till. Next came UFC 251, where two champions, Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski defended their welterweight and featherweight belts against Jorge Masvidal and Max Holloway, respectively.
Both cards are a great start to White’s ambitious plan for Fight Island. But there’s a long way to go. If, indeed, White plans to make Yan Island the Fight Capital of the World, he’ll have to pivot away entirely from Las Vegas, which is the de facto home of the UFC. In fact, a Bwin Sports feature on major MMA events across the globe shows that the MGM Grand in Vegas alone has hosted 131 UFC fight cards, which is more than any country outside the USA. That trend has continued even during the pandemic, with several fight nights already held and still scheduled at the UFC Apex, a production facility owned by the UFC and located in Las Vegas.
Clearly, White and the UFC are still attached to Las Vegas, and for good reason. Three of the UFC’s biggest gates — UFC 229, UFC 246, and UFC 200 — were all held in Las Vegas, while the promotion’s four top-selling cards in terms of pay-per-views all happened in Sin City (UFC 229 with 2.4 million buys; UFC 202, 1.6 million buys; UFC 196, 1.3 million buys; and UFC 100, 1 million buys). Needless to say Las Vegas has been very profitable for the UFC. It therefore makes perfect sense for White not to mess with something that had been working prior to this worldwide health crisis shutting down the entire world of sports.
The fact that White hasn't scheduled UFC 253 at Flash Forum in Yan Island is proof that he might not be fully on-board with Fight Island — at least not yet anyway. Sporting News reports that as of this writing the venue for this marquee fight card is still TBD, with rumors circulating that the UFC Apex in Las Vegas has joined Flash Forum as the likeliest location.
But if the UFC's big boss is truly serious about his guarantee of bringing the biggest and the baddest fights to Yan Island, then he'll bring UFC 253 there. After all, it is fast shaping up to be the year's biggest, most explosive card, with two unbeaten and charismatic middleweights as headliners: champion Israel Adesanya and challenger Paulo Costa. While White is at it, he might want to hold UFC 254 in Fight Island too, as it will be headlined by another title fight, this time between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje — arguably the two best lightweights in the world. If that's the case, White's July guarantee might well happen soon.