After the rousing success of the first trip, the UFC returns to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi for a month beginning this week with a lineup that is one of the strongest of the calendar year.
The Octagon is back on the beach as the UFC returns to Yas Island for five weeks and an impressive stretch of main events. Visually, nothing is expected to look different this time around. But the action scheduled is expected to propel the Octagon toward a landslide finish to their calendar year.
The action gets underway on Saturday with one of the most anticipated fights of 2019 as reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya takes on surging Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa. The two have been on a blistering run in recent year and their clash is the first time that undefeated fighters will collide for a UFC championship since 2009. The fight has been building for years since the two fought on the same weekend in 2018, and now only one will reign supreme. Furthermore, the addition of light heavyweight contenders Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz in a clash for the now vacant title in the co-main event promises damage for as long as it lasts.
On October 3, the bantamweight division will take center stage as former champion and perennial title challenger Holly Holm will take on Irene Aldana in a bout with major title implications for the Mexican upstart. Reigning queen Amanda Nunes has left a trail of destruction in her wake and the search for a fresh opponent has opened the door for contenders like Aldana to leap into a title fight as the UFC searches for a new challenger. With Nunes defending her featherweight title in December, a win for Aldana would elevate her into the top contender spot. Former champion Holm has no plans on putting over a new challenger, however, and a win over Aldana will continue to build her case back to the title.
October 11 will see the return of one of the top bantamweights in the world as Marlon Moraes takes on Corey Sandhagen. After blazing a trail to a title shot last year, Moraes has split fights with Henry Cejudo and José Aldo and another victory figures to set him up as the top threat to current champion Petr Yan. Sandhagen will be looking to get back in the win-column after a seven fight win-streak was snapped by Aljamain Sterling in June. Considering that Sterling is expected to face Yan sometime later this year, a title shot for the winner of Moraes and Sandhagen is not out of the question.
October 17 will see the highly anticipated featherweight battle between Brian Ortega and “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung. The previously cordial opponents have developed bad blood after Ortega accused Jung’s translator, Korean pop star Jay Park, of talking trash on social media on the fighter’s behalf. The incident culminated in a brief altercation in March with Ortega slapping Park at a UFC event. After having previously been scheduled to fight in December, they will compete nearly a year later with high stakes on the line as the winner could find themselves competing for a world title in their next bout.
The run on Fight Island will culminate with a battle for the lightweight championship as Khabib Nurmagomedov will look to defend his title for a third time when he meets interim champion Justin Gaethje. In the last several years, many have pointed toward Gaethje’s style as the most likely kryptonite to the dominant lightweight champion. Add to the fact that the fight could be the penultimate appearance for current pound-for-pound stalwart Nurmagomedov and the fight has all the intrigue one could ask for. If that wasn’t enough, Jared Cannonier will be looking for a shot at the middleweight title if he can get past former champion Robert Whittaker on the same night and an exciting featherweight clash between Yair Rodriguez and Zabit Magomedsharipov is also rumored to be part of the festivities.
If the coronavirus affecting the sport is the story of 2020, the UFC responding with blocking off an entire zone of an island in the Middle East to keep putting on fights is a close second. The rousing success of the first trip came in large part due to the intrigue going in and the lineup that had been assembled. The encore beginning this week will be relying in large part on the strength schedule that is planned over the next month that figures to bring even more fireworks than the last.