UFC 257 and Fight Island events will have ‘limited number’ of fans in attendance

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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.

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For the first time since March 2020, the UFC will have its amazing fans attending the fights live. The promotion’s upcoming three-event stint at “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi will take place not at Flash Forum on Yas Island, like its two 2020 visits to the country, but Etihad Arena.

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Besides, a “limited number of spectators” will be able to watch the fights on site. Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism on Thursday made official the UFC’s next three events at Etihad Arena, starting with UFC on ABC 1 next Saturday. There was no mention of how many total fans will be allowed inside the venue. That event will be followed by UFC on ESPN 20 on Wednesday, Jan. 20, and UFC 257 on Jan. 23.

“The tripleheader 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.

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.

Dana White on bringing in fans for UFC events

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.

In November, Dana White said he would not be interested in putting on events in partially filled arenas or stadiums.

“I’ll stay here at the Apex instead of going somewhere where we can’t have a full crowd,” White said after UFC 255. “What I’m not going to do is I’m not going to take a 10,000-seat arena and sell 5,000 tickets. I’d rather stay (in Las Vegas).”

But White also said this past year that when the promotion returns to Abu Dhabi, the partnership the promotion has with officials there would have him likely to cede to event organizers’ wishes for circumstances like a limited number of fans instead of a full house, and that appears to be the case.

After the second Flash Forum series of events this past fall, the plan was for Etihad Arena to host future fight cards in Abu Dhabi, which was posted to the arena’s official Twitter account in October.

After getting past the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and cancellations of events, White and the UFC eventually put on a series of events without fans in Jacksonville, Fla., then have made the Apex in Las Vegas its semi-permanent home, also without fans. Besides, the promotion twice in 2020 made multi-event visits to “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi for fight cards without fans.

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 company’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 pay-per-view of the year.

Fight Island 7 on Jan. 16 will be headlined by a featherweight bout between former champion Max Holloway and Calvin Kattar, while Fight Island 8 on Jan. 20 will be headlined by a welterweight bout between Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny.

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