It’s official: UFC 251 will take place on a newly-secured "Fight Island" in the Middle East.
UFC boss Dana White confirmed with ESPN's First Take that the venue is located Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The island serves as a location on which the MMA organization can hold events during the coronavirus crisis.
UFC 251 will be the first on July 11. The main card features three title fights: a welterweight bout between Karamu Usman and Gilbert Burns, a featherweight bout between Alex Volkanovski and Max Holloway, and a bantamweight bout between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo. UFC Fight Cards will follow on July 15, 18 and 25.
"We're literally just going to Yas Island right now to pull off these fights, because the hardest thing to do right now is to get people into the country from other parts of the world," White.
"And we are a true global business; we're the only ones that are pulling off live sports right now. And if I continue to do fights in the United States, I'm gonna burn out all my American talent. So now we've got Yas Island ready to go; it's set up."
Yas Island is reportedly set up with an arena, hotel, training facilities, dining establishments, and a 10-square-mile "safety zone" in which only athletes, coaches, UFC staff and other limited personnel will be granted access.
The Fight Island confirmation comes after two of the sport's biggest stars criticized the UFC's payment of top athletes. MMA Fighting reports that Jon Jones accused the UFC of taking financial advantage of him in a storm of tweets.
"It’s not a matter of not wanting to fight, I committed my whole life to this trade. The issue is not being able to go anywhere else. Everything was good until I asked for a piece of the pie.. UFC totally comfortable with me taking concussions for over a decade but asking for generational wealth."
"When I was in my prime, the UFC‘s way of not paying me was telling me I wasn’t a star," Jones added. "Had me grateful for a new car meanwhile making tens of millions without my knowing. I’m not even asking for backpay for ripping me off throughout my entire 20s. Just wanted to be treated fair moving forward."
Welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal also criticized the terms of his UFC deal, tweeting "I’m in a contract that I had to take to get paid. Same way I got a new contract to fight till. Then a new contract to fight Nate. They keep extending the amounts of fights to my contract to keep me locked up and when I say I only want a 4 fight contract it’s take it or leave it."
"Why are all the major names having issues? Conor [McGregor], Jones, [Henry] Cejudo," Masvidal said before retweeting many of Jones' statements. "We have to take it or retire. I love fighting and this is the fight of our lives."
McGregor recently announced his retirement from MMA (again), writing “The game just does not excite me, and that’s that. All this waiting around. There’s nothing happening."
Meanwhile, White responded by shooting down both Jones' and Masvidal's claims of unfair contracts.
“Jon Jones just signed a new deal less than a year ago,” White told ESPN. “He’s got eight fights left on his deal. What do you want me to tell you? The guy’s got a deal."
“Same thing with Masvidal. Masvidal just signed a new deal seven months ago. These guys both got brand new deals that they were more than happy to sign less than a year ago.”
“By the way, I don’t know if you know this but we’re in a pandemic and no other sports are going," White added.
"Oh, by the way, every other sport out there is arguing about money right now. I haven’t laid off one employee. I haven’t asked any of my fighters to take less money. There has never been a harder time to do business than right now. Guess what? I’m pulling it off.”