UFC star Conor McGregor makes Fight Island debut in Abu Dhabi on Saturday

Abu Dhabi has emerged as the global center of the mixed martial arts competition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

al-monitor Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia competes against Dustin Poirier of the United States in their Lightweight Title Bout during the UFC 242 event at The Arena on Sept. 07, 2019, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images.

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coronavirus, sports, martial arts, ufc, abu dhabi

Jan 19, 2021

The latest incarnation of Fight Island in Abu Dhabi will end on Saturday with a battle between two of mixed martial arts’ (MMA) biggest fighters. The Fight Island series continues to be a marquee event in the United Arab Emirates amid the pandemic and its major effects on global sports.

Conor McGregor will face Dustin Poirier at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 257 on Abu Dhabi Yas Island. McGregor, one of the sport's biggest names, will look to defeat Poirier for the second time after knocking him out in 2014.

MMA is a combat sport where two people fight in a cage in a series of timed rounds. The fight is won by a judges' decision, a knockout or one of the fighters tapping out. The UFC is the preeminent competition for the sport.

Abu Dhabi became the home of the coronavirus-era UFC last year. The first series of Fight Island finished in July and several fighters of Middle Eastern origins participated. In October, the second Fight Island ended with Khabib Nurmagomedov defeating Justin Gaethje to remain undefeated. Nurmagomedov, from the Dagestan region of Russia, is immensely popular in the Middle East — in part because of his strong Muslim faith. This current Fight Island series began on Jan. 16 and will finish Saturday.

Fight Island is deemed by Emirati authorities as a “safe zone” and follows a bubble concept similar to the 2020 National Basketball Association playoffs in the United States. Fighters and their teams must test negative before entering the island. They then remain isolated in the lead up to their bouts. This time, there will be a limited number of fans at the Etihad Arena, according to the state-run Emirates News Agency.

Pictures from McGregor's Instagram show luxurious accommodations and beach access available to the fighters.

McGregor is eyeing a rematch against Nurmagomedov by facing Poirier. In 2018, the Dagestani defeated the Irishman via submission. McGregor made headlines by insulting Nurmagomedov's heritage and religion in the lead-up to the fight. After his victory, Nurmagomedov controversially attacked a member of McGregor’s team, resulting in an all-out brawl inside the octagon.
Then last January, McGregor defeated Donald Cerrone in a matter of seconds.

Poirier, from the United States, also lost to Nurmagomedov in 2019 in Abu Dhabi, but then defeated Dan Hooker last June. The Poirier vs. Nurmagomedov fight in Abu Dhabi was perhaps the most hyped ever to be held in the Emirates at the time.

Saturday's event also features two female fights, including one between American Jessica Eye and Brit Joanne Calderwood. Ottman Azaitar, a dual German-Moroccan citizen, will also face off against American Matt Frevola.

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