Abu Dhabi hopes to welcome more live spectators after successfully hosting major sporting events
DUBAI: It was the fight event everyone wanted to be.
In the famed Octagon, UFC 257 reached its dramatic conclusion with American underdog Dustin Poirier surprising crowd favorite Conor McGregor with a second round TKO.
Yes, it was crowded, a year 2000 after Abu Dhabi’s new Etihad Arena hosted the live audience for the third edition of UFC Fight Island.
For Salem Al-Sulaimani, director of operations at Flash Entertainment, the presence of combat fans returning to Yas Island in January, after the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, was an honor to all involved in the organization of the event.
“Bringing the audience into the arena is the result of an excellent collaboration between Flash Entertainment, the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Culture and Tourism and all government stakeholders in Abu Dhabi,” he said. . “This was to ensure that health and safety was a priority, making sure to implement very strict security measures to allow fighters, teams and the public to feel safe in one place. . “
The first Fight Island, which started with UFC 251 on July 11, 2020, set the bar high. It was the first post-coronavirus international sporting event to attract athletes from around the world. Fight Island 2 followed in late September and October with UFC 253 and UFC 254, in which Khabib Nurmagomedov memorized the time of an unparalleled career after beating Justin Gaethje.
“Over the past seven months, we have successfully hosted three UFC events in a row, which shows the success of working with all government entities that have implemented a Fight Island model,” Al said. -Sulaimani. “It showed how they managed to create the safest possible place to host this type of international event.”
“Abu Dhabi became the first city outside of Las Vegas to host two consecutive numbered UFC events.”
UFC President Dana White, the fighters and their teams have all expressed their willingness to come back every time.
“The main difference was not just repeating events one after another,” Al-Sulaimani said. “In each of them, we wanted to make it bigger, we wanted to improve it. Ultimately, we wanted to bring the audience to the events, bring them to life, while maintaining high standards of health and safety. “
It is now hoped that more fans will slowly return to major sporting events in the capital of the UAE. The creation of a constant safety zone, or the “bubble model”, played a major role in making this possible, as did the launch of the spectacular 20,000-seat venue on the Yas Bay waterfront.
“With the Etihad Arena, it showed the ability of such a large venue to adapt to the current pandemic and host such an event,” Al-Sulaimani said. “The last event, Fight Island 3, created so much atmosphere. Not only was it the first event that saw the UFC recover the public from the Covid-19 outbreak, but it was also the first public event in Abu Dhabi. He ticked so many boxes, and it was the perfect way to show the world Etihad Arena. “
Al-Sulaimani believes Abu Dhabi’s travel measures and the country’s successful vaccination program have opened up the possibility for even more fans to return to sports shows this year.
“It gives us great hope,” he said. “The UAE’s proactive and coordinated response to tackle the global pandemic has put the country on the right track. The high rates of citizens and residents being vaccinated give tremendous hope to return to normal and have more events in which the public will participate. Other sports organizations see the Emirates as a model for their events. “
Already, discussions have turned to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December and the possibility of having fans back on the Yas Marina circuit.
“We are looking at the global situation with the Grand Prix, making sure we are monitoring the pandemic on the horizon and working with federal and local authorities here in Abu Dhabi,” Al-Sulaimani said. “Looking at what the fans want, we are very aware of their appetite now, and the excitement of coming back to the live events.”
The 2020 edition went off successfully without an audience, but this year there’s even the tantalizing possibility of post-race entertainment coming back.
“Interestingly, usually with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we approach artists to come and participate, but we have already had requests from very great artists,” he added. “So they are the ones contacting us rather than we trying to chase them away.”
Thanks to the success of recent competitions in the capital, Al-Sulaimani and Flash Entertainment are planning to hold more events in Abu Dhabi and, potentially, further afield.
“In general, this is what we always do, this is what we do on a daily basis. As part of our growth strategy, we have the ambition to further develop in the region and in the UAE markets, ”he said. “We want to build on the previous work we did in Dubai, bringing world-class entertainment. It’s a market just an hour from the capital. Over the past few years, we have managed to put over 8.5 million smiles among people, and we want that to continue. “
And sports fans can expect more than Formula 1 later this year.
“In December we will be hosting the 15th FINA Swimming World Championship at the Etihad Arena, and we also have the Mubadala Tennis Championship this year, so there is a lot to look forward to,” Al-Sulaimani said. “We are ready to bring all of these international events to Abu Dhabi. Our goal here is to support Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. Flash entertainment will continue to provide this platform for emerging talent and inspire future generations. “