Abu Dhabi (AFP)

The concept of "Fight Island", promoted by the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Dana White to avoid the risks linked to the coronavirus, raised frowns but it will make its debut on Sunday on an island of Abu Dhabi.

"Fight Island is real. It's a real thing," said the UFC boss when he announced in April his plan to hold a mixed martial arts (MMA) tournament on an enclosed island. "The infrastructure is being built right now, and it will really happen," he said.

Mr. White's vision will take shape with the UFC 251 13-bout tournament on Yas Island, which will be marked by a fight for the world welterweight title between Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

The tournament will take place without an audience in an island resort and entertainment arena throughout the month of July.

Kamaru Usman said in a virtual press briefing that he had been impressed with what he had seen since arriving in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

"I am grateful for all that has been done," he said, adding that "every precaution has been taken." "I would be happy to go home without Covid-19," he added.

The UFC left its base in Las Vegas to settle in Abu Dhabi to isolate its fighters. Security was a major motivation, as was the need for the promoter to continue to organize tournaments - and to collect revenue - during the health crisis that upset the agenda of sporting events around the world.

- "Safety zone" -

Strict isolation measures were imposed on athletes, their entourage, officials, staff and the media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that was completely cordoned off until the end of the event on July 26.

It was on this island that the cycling teams were placed in quarantine for several days at the end of February after the discovery of several positive cases at Covid-19 on the Tour of the Emirates (UAE Tour).

"We were able to lock ourselves up with rugs and protections in our room and continue to train as much as possible," said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who faces Brazilian Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday's preliminaries.

To date, the United Arab Emirates has recorded more than 53,500 cases of coronavirus and 328 deaths.

Abu Dhabi's executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali al-Shaiba, said a strict health protocol had been put in place in the vast "safety zone", which is overseen by the police and is expected to house around 2,000 people. people for the duration of the month-long event.

"It is not easy to host an international mega event like a UFC tournament in these circumstances where everyone is locked up and travel restrictions are in place. But we are making a difference", a- he told AFP.

Abu Dhabi, which signed a five-year contract with the UFC, has a rich history in martial arts, since it hosts lucrative events of jiu-jitsu, a sport which is a component of MMA which has become very popular. in the last decade.

For the moment, Fight Island is a "unique" event, said Shaiba, adding that the emirate had been approached by other sports entities wishing to organize events in the "bubble" format.

© 2020 AFP