By Gavin Gibbon
UFC 251 showpiece attracts biggest television audience since October 2018
UFC 251 on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island brought in 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, the most the promotion has drawn for a single event since UFC 229 in October 2018.
Headlining, Kamaru Usman put on a 'Fight Island' masterclass on Sunday to retain his Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight world title by grinding down a brave Jorge Masvidal in the UAE capital.
The Las Vegas-based UFC pulled off a power-packed schedule with three world title fights to kick off a series of mixed martial arts cards.
It helped fulfil supremo Dana White's vision of a coronavirus-free 'Fight Island', something he first floated when the pandemic caused a global shutdown of sport in March.
White said: “Fight Island was a massive star in this thing. Jorge Masvidal was a massive star. Obviously, Usman, the champion and a guy that we’re all starting to realize is tough to beat – and a great card underneath it. It all came together perfectly.”
According to reports, UFC 251 generated almost $78 million in television revenue.
White was quick to praise the hosts for the success of the show.
An 11km stretch of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island has been locked off to the public as part of a ‘safe zone’ for the showcase, while strict protocols meant athletes and staff were tested twice before leaving for the UAE, and twice again on arrival, before spending 48 hours in quarantine.
He said: “Literally, (there’s) not one negative thing I could point out as I’ve been talking to people, especially here from Abu Dhabi, who were involved in the event. I’ve had meetings since the fight, and they’re like, ‘What can we do better next time?’ I’m like, ‘I wish I could tell you something negative. I wish I could tell you something that didn’t go perfectly, that wasn’t perfect.’ Everything here has been perfect.
“When you think about this safety zone that we’re in from the restaurants to the hotels and the service and everything else, it literally could not be done better than this if you look at all the other places. California just shut down again. With what’s going on in the States, you couldn’t execute a better event with better facilities with better food for everybody. The list just goes on and on. It could not be better.”
Abu Dhabi, which signed a five-year contract with the UFC, has a rich history when it comes to martial arts, hosting lucrative jiu-jitsu events, a sport that is a major component of MMA which has exploded in popularity over the past decade.
Abu Dhabi was an early investor in the sport, owning 10% stake in UFC before it exited its investment in 2018.