For the first time since March of last year, there will be fans at a UFC event.
The Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism announced Thursday that “a limited number of spectators” will be permitted to attend the UFC’s upcoming January return to Abu Dhabi. UFC events are currently scheduled to take place on Jan. 16, Jan. 20, and Jan. 23.
“The triple header will see three mega-fights, utilizing Abu Dhabi’s proven ‘safe zone’ concept to protect the health and safety of all delegates, spectators, crew and media,” the Abu Dhabi media office wrote in a subsequent tweet.
January’s Fight Island events will take place at Etihad Arena as opposed to Flash Forum, which hosted the UFC’s visits to Abu Dhabi in 2020. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UFC has primarily held shows on Fight Island and at UFC APEX in Las Vegas. Non-essential personnel have been banned from attendance to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
No information was given as to how limited attendance will be. According to the official Etihad Arena website, the venue has a maximum capacity of over 18,000. It is also not clear when or if tickets will be available to the public, or if seating will be selective.
UFC President Dana White has been open about his reluctance to open up events to the public without the possibility of selling venues out, but at a UFC 256 post-fight scrum in December he mentioned that the plan was to have some fan involvement during the three-event week similar to International Fight Weeks of the past that took place in Las Vegas.
The UFC 257 pay-per-view event on Jan. 23 is headlined by a lightweight title bout between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor. McGregor is one of the UFC’s biggest draws in terms of viewership, pay-per-view buys, and ticket sales, and White said last May that it would be “tough” to miss out on the lucrative gate money that McGregor brings in.
McGregor has only competed once in the past 26 months, defeating Donald Cerrone by TKO in just 40 seconds at UFC 246 in January 2020. “The Notorious” later touted his appearance as the highest-selling UFC pay-per-view of the year.
UFC Fight Island 7 on Jan. 16 will be headlined by a featherweight bout between former UFC champion Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar, while UFC Fight Island 8 on Jan. 20 will be headlined by a welterweight bout between Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny. Both Fight Night events are expected to air live on the ESPN+ streaming service.