You could never call Yas Island boring. Since opening in 2009, the Abu Dhabi venue has hosted everything from F1 Grand Prix racing to a Beyoncé concert. This month, on a zone dubbed Fight Island, the emirate will host UFC 251 (12–26 July), an Ultimate Fighting extravaganza featuring no fewer than three title fights. The athletes will stay in a designated safe zone on Yas Island and won’t be allowed to leave whilst on this trip, but if they could, where would these brawling superstars find less punchy ways to get their kicks? Here are some suggestions.
Nigerian-American welterweight champion Usman is said to be a keen painter in his spare time, so the nearby Louvre Abu Dhabi art museum is an obvious choice for the man they call the “Nigerian Nightmare”. He may be especially interested in Paul Gauguin’s Children Wrestling, or – who knows? – Francis Cotes’s Portrait of William and Penelope Welby Playing Chess.
Australian featherweight champion Volkanovski only started fighting in 2012, having previously worked in construction. For him, we recommend a survey of Abu Dhabi’s architecture – from the monumental Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the tilting Capital Gate tower, while Yas Island itself boasts the undulating shell of the W Abu Dhabi hotel. Tours are available through various operators.
Former featherweight champion Holloway was born (and is based) in Hawaii – he has even made a guest appearance on TV series Hawaii Five-0 – so he might like to dip his toes in the powdery sand at nearby Yas Beach. While most surfing here is of the wind-powered variety, the Wadi Adventure water park in Al Ain has more serious waves – some towering over three metres.
Former women’s strawweight champion Andrade was born and raised in Brazil, so it’s no surprise that she originally set out to be a soccer player. If Andrade wants to see the home of one of the UAE’s most successful clubs, Al Ain FC, there’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, an architectural gem that’s worth a look even when there isn’t a game on. Another must-see is the idyllic Al Ain Oasis, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
American former women’s strawweight champion Namajunas likes her vegetables so much, she grows her own. Luckily, Abu Dhabi is home to many fantastic veggie restaurants. Bareburger is the place to go if you must have something in a bun – the range includes a black-bean-and-rice patty topped with guacamole and pickled jalapeno. For more traditional vegetarian-friendly fare, Lebanese standby Sambusek won’t disappoint.
It’s surprising American flyweight VanZant finds the time to fight at all, given that she dabbles in writing, art and modelling. She has also appeared in the television series Dancing with the Stars, so the obvious choice for her is the flashiest nightclub in the city: MAD Yas Island, a sprawling high-tech spot where you can get down to world-leading live performers and DJs. One word of advice for her, though: don’t go the night before the big fight.
As the official airline partner of UFC Fight Island, Etihad Airways has been honoured to fly fighters and their training camps to Abu Dhabi from around the world, including UFC President Dana White and welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.