UFC 251 is scheduled for this Saturday at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal – making it one of the most anticipated fights of the year.
It was not supposed to be, though. Gilbert Burns was meant to be Usman’s challenger, but a positive COVID-19 test resulted in Masvidal to slide in and take the fight, much to the delight of UFC president Dana White.
“I never seen two guys who want to fight more than these two do,” White told WFAN’s “Joe and Evan” on Monday. “They both want each other and that is what the fans want. It’s literally the perfect storm.”
Usman is in search for his 16th consecutive victory while Masvidal has won three straight fights after a 16-month idle period in which he came off back-to-back losses. Yet, this will be the first title Masvidal is fighting for since he defeated Nuri Shakir in June 2006.
But what also makes this fight unique is that it will take place on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, which has been dubbed “Fight Island.” There is a 10-mile safety zone were members of the general public will not be allowed.
“I needed a place in the US where I can put on a fight, and a place overseas everyone can get to easily, fly to, and get in and out of the country,” White said. “We have a history with Abu Dhabi and an incredible relationship together. …We basically built this small arena over there like the Apex in Vegas. Personal training facilities for fighters. Personal octagon on beach. Restaurants, hotels, everything we need is in a 10 mile radius we call the safety zone.”
As team sports in the U.S try to figure out the best methods to return, UFC has been running fiths each week since they returned on May 9, but not without its own hiccups – such as Burns’ positive test.
White said in the early going, he was considering building his own lab for tests in Las Vegas.
“The testing, I think came together quicker than anticipated and I didn’t need to do that,” he said. “We got it figured out.”
White added he’s been tested over 10 times total, and that the fighters will be tested five times before Saturday.
“We worry about safety every weekend, not just since Covid-19,” he said. “So I knew we were capable of handling this.”