Interviews, Isolation and ‘Fight Island:’ Covering MMA During The COVID-19 Pandemic

On his way to covering a series of UFC events in September, MMA Fighting’s José Youngs packed many things – among them was an Xbox. Youngs was off to “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates for five weeks, where when not covering MMA or being tested for COVID-19, he would need to kill time.

The Xbox caught on fire on the first day of the trip. 

“I didn’t take into account the voltage difference between American and UAE [United Arab Emirates], so my Xbox caught on fire on the first day,” said Youngs in an interview with Knockdown News. Because a replacement cord couldn’t be bought, the Xbox was out of the equation for the rest of the trip.

It was one of the first problems Youngs would come across on “Fight Island” in an experience unlike any other he has had since he started covering MMA in 2013.

The trip to “Fight Island” was to cover five-straight UFC events, two of them being major pay-per-view events. The location for the venue was made specifically for running events in the COVID-19 era, as it was essentially secluded off from the rest of the world.

“We could go from the hotel to the arena, and back. We saw the same people every day,” said Youngs. 

The setting and duration of the stay at “Fight Island” for Youngs was something he knew would be a challenge.

“I wasn’t hesitant, I just knew it was going to be exhausting,” said Youngs. “I was prepared, but nothing can really prepare you for those first few weeks of just constant quarantining and constant boredom.”

Being the sole member of MMA Fighting at the island, Youngs played a key role for his entire team’s content for a five-week period. On his trip, he produced more than 50 hours of content for the website, ranging from recording interviews, weigh-ins, press conferences, podcasts and more.

Inside the press room itself, the media is now quite literally few and far in-between. Rooms that used to hold “maybe 50 to 60” reporters earlier in the year were reduced to enough that “I could probably count on two hands,” by Youngs’ account.

Looking out for the safety of media in the building, the UFC’s press room now has desks that are socially distanced and are assigned to media members, and each person gets their own microphone. Despite the change being one done out of necessity, Youngs considered it one that also brought much-appreciated civility.

“Now we have name tags, so there’s no fighting, and we each get our own microphone. I actually like it better …  I hope when this pandemic clears that they do keep that,” said Youngs.

While “Fight Island” blocked fighters, staff and media out from the public, it was for good reason. The atmosphere created was done out of pure safety in a COVID-19 world. Their strict testing system meant that positive cases of COVID-19 would be caught before people travelled there, like Gilbert Burns for example.

“I felt much safer on Fight Island,” said Youngs, when comparing the protocol of the event to ones he has covered in Jacksonville, Florida or Las Vegas, Nevada. He also mentioned that he was roughly tested for COVID-19 20 times during his stay.

In the end, the struggles and troubles that a bubble-style format brings is not for nothing. The point behind it all is to protect all parties involved with putting on sporting events. The struggles involved with it currently are just some of the issues that have to be dealt with in the COVID-19 era of sports.

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