Sources: UFC to up testing for ‘Fight Island’ cards

The UFC has again altered its coronavirus protocols for upcoming events in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, sources told ESPN.

Multiple sources said even more COVID-19 testing will be administered to fighters, corner people, staff and anyone else involved in the events next month, including testing prior to flying to Abu Dhabi.

Beginning July 11, the UFC will run cards on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island — which has been dubbed by the promotion “Fight Island” — over four weeks during the month. After the first card, there will be shows July 15, July 18 and July 25.

Fighters competing at UFC 251 on July 11 will begin travel next week, first going to regional anchor cities before the UFC will charter flights from there to Abu Dhabi, sources said. Fighters and corner people from the United States will travel to Las Vegas; those in Brazil will go to Sao Paulo; and fighters and corners located elsewhere will go to either London or Moscow, depending on their geography.

When everyone arrives at those anchor cities, they will be administered COVID-19 testing and quarantined before leaving for Abu Dhabi on charters. This is the first time the UFC has tested those involved with events prior to arrival at the host city. MMAFighting.com was the first to report the early testing.

UFC 251 is headlined by a welterweight title fight between champion Kamaru Usman and challenger Gilbert Burns. There are two other title fights on the card, as well. Alexander Volkanovski will defend his featherweight title against former champ Max Holloway, plus Petr Yan and former featherweight champion Jose Aldo will face off for the vacant bantamweight title.

“I was trying to only go fight week, but I don’t think that’s an option for us,” Usman told ESPN. “They have a set date we need to be there. … We’ll go to Vegas first; they’ll test everybody in Vegas before they put us on a plane.”

Once the fighters, corners and staff members arrive in Abu Dhabi, they will be administered two more coronavirus tests, sources said. They will be asked to quarantine from there until the results come back. When the results of those two tests return, everyone will be tested again and asked to quarantine once more until the new results come back. All involved with the event also will be tested after the fight card is over, which is another distinguishing factor from the UFC’s previous protocols.

The area where the UFC group is staying is expected to be a true bubble, with no one else coming in and out and those involved with the event not leaving, sources said.

Mask wearing and social distancing are expected, in line with already established UFC protocols, and no fans will be in attendance.

The UFC has collaborated with the local government in Abu Dhabi on the protocols. The promotion and the country have a long-term working agreement; September’s UFC 242 was held on Yas Island.

The UFC was one of the first major sports organizations up and running after the coronavirus pandemic upended most leagues. The promotion ran May 9, May 13 and May 16 cards in Jacksonville, Florida, before returning to its home of Las Vegas for four June events.

The final event at the UFC Apex, right across from the company’s Las Vegas campus, will be staged this Saturday, though the UFC is expected to return in August for a month’s slate of cards.

ESPN’s Brett Okamoto and Ariel Helwani contributed to this report.