During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-2020, the UFC was adamant that professional sports continue. They made Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates their home. Dubbed "Fight Island", this location became a hit among fans and fighters alike and has since become a staple location for the UFC, hosting 13 events there since 2020.
At UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev, we return to Fight Island for one of the most stacked fight cards of the year. While we wait for this historical card, let's take a trip down memory lane and look at the 10 best moments Fight Island has brought us.
Before a colossal championship double-header, Brandon Royval fought Kai Kara-France on the main card of UFC 253: Adesanya vs. Costa. Right off the bat, both men were advancing and throwing bombs. Kara-France threw a right hand that connected as Royval was throwing a leg kick, which dropped him. Royval quickly shot up to his feet, wobbly, and Kara-France went in for the finish, but Royval timed a spinning elbow perfectly on Kara-France's advance and dropped Kara-France. The first round continued with an exciting back and forth until the round-ending bell. In the opening seconds of round 2, Kara-France shot in for a takedown, and Royval wrapped up a super tight guillotine which forced the Kiwi to tap.
This incredible fight earned the pair Fight of the Night awards despite only being 6 minutes long.
Cory Sandhagen took on Marlon Moraes at UFC on Fight Island 5. This fight led to the second-best knockout we've had at Fight Island, the first being earlier on this same card. Sandhagen is known for his flashy finishes; this was just another highlight for his reel. The opening round began, and everything seemed to be even. Moraes was landing some big overhands and even scored a takedown to finish the round. Entering round 2, Sandhagen landed a head kick that appeared to break the orbital bone of Marlon Moraes. Shortly after, Sandhagen launched a spinning wheel kick that landed on the side of Moraes' head, leading him to drop to the floor and roll backwards. The referee stopped the bout as soon as Sandhagen dove on his opponent to prevent any extra damage, leading to one of the year's best knockouts.
Deiveson Figueiredo and Joseph Benavidez fought twice at the beginning of 2020. Despite Figueiredo finishing Benavidez by TKO in the first fight, Figueiredo was unable to make the championship weight required and was ineligible for the title. A rematch was scheduled 5 months later to be the main event of UFC on Fight Island 2, where Figueiredo dominated Benavidez in a much quicker and more brutal fashion. After landing massive shots that dropped Benavidez repeatedly, Figueiredo was hunting for the rare-naked choke every time until finally, Figueiredo sunk in one of the deepest rare-naked chokes I've seen and put him to sleep in the closing seconds of round 1. This time making the 125lb championship weight, Figueiredo was crowned the Flyweight champion.
For the second time in history, two undefeated men fought for a UFC championship title where someone's 0 had to go. The lead-up to this fight showed a lot of trash talk between the two fighters, back and forth on Twitter, memes and digs in interviews. All that would be put to rest when facing one another inside the octagon. Adesanya began the fight with a leg-kick-strong game plan, which took the power away from Costa's lead leg. All it took was a full 5 minutes of leg kicks before Costa was fearful of engaging, and Adesanya could glide in and out, landing combinations at will. With 1 minute left in the second round, Adesanya landed a left hook to finish his combination that dropped Costa and opened an opportunity to finish the fight. Adesanya dove in for the finish and scored the TKO victory at 3:59 of round 2, giving Costa his first career loss and moving him to 13-1.
UFC on Fight Island 7 gave us one of the most dominant victories we had ever seen when Max Holloway fought Calvin Kattar in the main event. Holloway kept the fight standing and proved he was the best boxer in the UFC when he shattered all the striking records the UFC offers. Holloway landed 447 total strikes, a UFC record for most strikes landed in one fight, and the most total strikes in all UFC competition at 2,805. This fight was the third time in history a 50-42 was scored by ring-side judges, where one judge scored 3 rounds as a 10-8. In the closing round of the fight, Holloway yelled, "I'm the best boxer in UFC, baby!" while landing and evading oncoming strikes.
Kattar refused to give up in this fight and proved to us just how tough he was as he pressed forward to the final bell. But in the end, Max Holloway won unanimously with two 50-43s and a 50-42.
Jiří Procházka's debut saw him take on knockout artist Volkan Oezdemir to close out the prelims of the first card on Fight Island, UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal. After a well-contested first round, it seemed as though Procházka had entered a flow state entering round 2. At the beginning of the second round, Procházka advanced and threw a sharp 1-2 combination, which landed right on the chin of Oezdemir, knocking him out cold at the 49-second mark.
Since showing us who he was in his impressive debut, Procházka has dominated the Light Heavyweight division and put on incredible fights in the process. Procházka now sits at the top of the division with the undisputed title after defeating Glover Teixeira by submission in a Fight of the Year candidate.
Conor McGregor rematched Dustin Poirier at UFC 257: McGregor vs. Poirier 2 nearly 7 years after their first fight in 2014. McGregor won their first fight by knockout in round 1. Since their first fight, both moved to Lightweight and became some of the best fighters in the division. With both men challenging for the undisputed title in the past and coming up short, a rematch seemed to be a good idea for the pair. Poirier began the fight with heavy calf kicks, slowing McGregor's movement. Even when McGregor tried firing his left hand at Poirier, Poirier was able to eat the shots and throw more calf kicks. After noticing McGregor could not put weight on his lead leg, Poirier dove in for the finish by landing a barrage of punches followed by a right hook that dropped McGregor and led to the biggest win of his career.
John Phillips was scheduled to face Duško Todorović at UFC on Fight Island 1: Kattar vs. Ige, but due to a medical issue, Todorović had to pull out. Khamzat Chimaev quickly stepped up to make his UFC debut at Middleweight. The unknown Chechen fighter gained notoriety and became the star of Fight Island after dominating Phillips with one of UFC's most significant strike differentials. Chimaev would finish the fight by d'arce choke in round 2 and call for a second fight as soon as possible. This wish was granted as he fought 10 days later on UFC on Fight Island 3: Whittaker vs. Till, this time at Welterweight.
Chimaev has dominated every fight since his debut and has climbed up both divisions simultaneously, nearly setting himself up title shot in either division.
Of course, we had to mention this. One of the most viral UFC moments ever. Everyone heard about this, UFC fan or not. Kanye West even shared this clip in his Instagram story. Those lucky enough to watch the UFC on Fight Island 5 prelims live could witness Joaquin Buckley land a once-in-a-lifetime spinning kick knockout on Impa Kasanganay. Those who did not see it live didn't have to worry, as this clip was everywhere within an hour. This fight managed to win Joaquin Buckley Knockout of the Year in 2020 and the Most Viral UFC Fighter in History.
Buckley threw a left kick which was caught by Kasanganay, so he turned over his hips and let the momentum carry him to throw his right foot into the face of Kasanganay. This kick froze Kasanganay stiff as he fell to the floor unconscious, and Buckley scored a walk-off knockout.
In the final fight of Khabib Nurmagomedov's undefeated career, he faced Justin Gaethje. He secured his spot as one of the greatest of all-time Lightweight fighters by controlling Gaethje throughout the fight. In the opening round, Khabib secured an armbar that he ultimately gave up on when thinking about Gaethje's family sitting in the arena. Khabib decided mid-fight that he didn't want to break Gaethje's arm in front of his parents, so in round 2, he worked his way up to sink in a triangle choke to put Gaethje to sleep instead. Khabib announced after the fight that he would retire as his father had recently passed away, and he promised his mother he would not fight without his Dad. Khabib stayed true to his word and officially retired and vacated the Lightweight belt shortly after being ranked number 1 on the UFC pound-for-pound list.
Fight Island has given us some of the best knockouts of all-time, incredible debuts, big upsets, dominant victories, and fight-of-the-year contenders. Who knows what we might be in store for at UFC 280: Oliveira vs. Makhachev?