From the time UFC president Dana White announced he had “secured an island,” the concept of Fight Island became larger than life. While it was impossible forof fights in an Octagon on the beach of a jungle island, the unique conditions of a world experiencing a global pandemic and the UFC securing a chunk of land on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on which they created a fighting paradise made plenty of memories for fight fans.
The promotion held four events on Fight Island over three weeks, starting with a massive UFC 251 card that saw three title fights top the card and ending with a Fight Night clash between former middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and rising contender Darren Till. Scattered across those four cards on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi were plenty of memorable moments and incredible performances.
Let’s take a look at five of the biggest, most memorable moments from the UFC’s ambitious Fight Island experiment.
1 . Jorge Masvidal proves he’s the BMF: The end result may not have been the thrilling performance some fans wanted, but Jorge Masvidal stepping up on six days’ notice during a global pandemic to fly halfway around the world and fight the best welterweight on the planet solidified his Baddest Motherf–k-er credentials. An unfortunate dispute with the UFC over financial details moved Masvidal behind Gilbert Burns in the welterweight title challenger line. But when Burns tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of UFC 251, Masvidal was willing to jump through an increasingly complicated series of hoops, including several COVID tests, an international flight, mandatory quarantine and the need to lose 20 pounds in a matter of days, all to take his shot at an elusive world championship.
In the cage, Masvidal was unable to overcome the lack of preparation and the solid, if unexciting, gameplan of Kamaru Usman; life isn’t an inspirational sports movie, after all. But there was no more memorable way to kick off the UFC’s trip to Fight Island than for Masvidal to roll the dice on his shot at glory.
2. The rise of Khamzat Chimaev: When Khamzat Chimaev ran through John Phillips on July 16 on Fight Island, it felt like we all were witness to a new UFC star. Two takedowns, easy passing on the ground and a second-round submission, all while absorbing a total of one strike in 6:12 of cage time. Chimaev then turned around 10 days later to face Rhys McKee and somehow was even more impressive. Chimaev blew through McKee in just 3:09, this time landing 40 strikes while McKee landed zero. 9:21 in cage time over 10 days and Chimaev out-struck his opponents a combined 83-1.
With such impressive performances, it’s no wonder UFC president Dana White said the promotion will try to grant Chimaev his request to fight again in mid-August, and even said he might be ready for a fight with Usman. “We were sitting in here this morning trying to figure out what we think is next,” White said. “If you ask this kid, he’s ready to fight Usman. You know what I mean? Is he ready for Usman? The way he looks, who knows? Maybe.”
3. Petr Yan takes over the bantamweight division: There were plenty of reasons to question the UFC’s decision to insert Jose Aldo into a fight with then-bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo. Those questions remained after Cejudo retired and Aldo was matched with heavy-hitting Petr Yan. Aldo did plenty to prove he deserved to be in the cage with Yan, giving as well as he received until Yan utilized an all-out blitz to finally put Aldo away late in Round 5.
Yan was the man who truly deserved the shot at Cejudo prior to the former champ’s retirement, and now the division is his to guide. The 135-pound division is fast becoming a minefield, with established contenders and fast-rising potential stars — not to mention the looming threat of Cejudo potentially returning to try to reclaim his throne. Yan, though, is dangerous enough to potentially fend off all those threats for a very long time.
4. New king emerges at flyweight: Deiveson Figueiredo was already the uncrowned UFC flyweight champion, having knocked out Joseph Benavidez in a battle for the vacant title back in February. Figueiredo only had himself to blame for not leaving that night as champion, though, having missed weight and left ineligible to win the title. The rematch was set up for Fight Island, and Figueiredo had to win both on the scales and in the Octagon to not experience a similar level of disappointment.
Figueiredo did just that, completely dominating the rematch with Benavidez after making weight successfully. While Benavidez could blame the first loss on an accidental headbutt that left him rocked or the fact that Figueiredo didn’t drain himself completely to make weight, there were no excuses the second time around. Figueiredo blew through Benavidez en route to a rear-naked choke victory before the first round even came to a close, erasing any doubt and presenting the flyweight division with an undisputed champion once again.
5. Jiri Prochazka makes a big impression: With 24 knockouts in 27 career wins, there was little doubt of Jiri Prochazka’s ability to finish a fight. Of course, many of those victories came against lower-tier opponents or name fighters who were on the back-side of their careers. Volkan Oezdemir was an established product as a former light heavyweight title challenger, so it was easy to see why the veteran entered the cage as a slight favorite.
Prochazka immediately established himself as a unique talent, taunting the always-dangerous Oezdemir and throwing powerful strikes while occasionally striking a karate pose. After a wild first round, Prochazka lashed out in the opening minute of Round 2, crumbling Oezdemir and immediately announcing himself as a new force to be reckoned with in the 205-pound division.