Justin Gaethje is due to take on Khabib Nurmagomedov in a unification bout for the UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi. The event scheduled for October 24 might have live fans in attendance, confirmed Saeed Rashed Al Saeed, Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi's marketing director.
Speaking to HotlierMiddleEast, Al Saeed said -
We are currently studying how to bring fans into UFC 254. Right now we're going through how to segregate fans from people inside the bubble but still get them inside the space in the safe manner. If everything goes to plan we'll be announcing this soon. It's not confirmed yet but the plan is in place but it needs to be endorsed. I'm optimistic but health and safety cannot be compromised. That is our priority, it will not happen unless it is fool proof.
UFC 254 headlined by Justin Gaethje vs Khabib Nurmagomedov could have fans in attendance
UFC was the first sport to resume its operations after the pandemic ground the world to a halt back in May 2020. Their comeback card was UFC 249, also headlined by Justin Gaethje (who beat Tony Ferguson), and it attracted a lot of criticism at that point of time.
However, if UFC 254 does have a live audience, it'll be another step in the right direction for the company - especially if the execution is on par with the plans highlighted by the Department of Culture and Tourism. Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has a huge following in the Middle East, would also be the perfect fighter to usher in the live audience.
Khabib, who beat Dustin Poirier last year, was due to defend his title against Tony Ferguson earlier in the year only for it to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Gaethje, a great defensive wrestler, might be one of the more difficult match-ups for the champion in the weight class.
The UFC Fight Island at Yas Island has been a great opportunity for the UFC to be able to put on fights involving their international fighters. However, Al Saeed hopes that the next iteration of events is without the strict restrictions in place due to the pandemic.
When people ask me if there will be a Fight Island 3, my honest answer is "I really hope not." That's not because I don't enjoy the work or I don't enjoy bringing in world-class fighters, it's because I want future sporting or UFC events to be able to take place outside the confines of the pandemic. I'm trying to be optimistic and hope that we wouldn't need another bubble. We can have more UFC events, but I want the guests to be able to watch them in person and I want our fighters to be able to go out and enjoy the emirate.Published 12 Oct 2020, 13:26 IST