UFC Fight Island: Paul Craig on hazmat suits & banging on the roof

Craig (right) fights Gadzhimurad Antigulov on 25 July
Craig (right) fights Gadzhimurad Antigulov on 25 July

Scotland's Paul Craig is preparing for his latest UFC bout, but not as he would usually know it.

UFC's Fight Island is being held in quarantine on Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The place has been transformed into a closed-off fight zone and has been staging UFC events since 11 July, comprising a safety zone including an arena, hotels, training facilities and restaurants which are only open to fighters, coaches, UFC staff and other event personnel.

Craig arrived in Abu Dhabi at the weekend and tells BBC Scotland what it has been like as he prepares for Saturday's contest on Fight Island.

Hazmat suits & early morning tests

In order for Yas Island to be Covid-19 free, there is regular testing. Craig was tested before leaving the UK, and had to stay in isolation in London for two nights to await his result.

He was then tested again on arrival, and was woken at the crack of dawn on Sunday for yet another assessment.

"What they're looking for is for this place to be in lockdown," he told BBC Scotland's Sportsound programme.

"Everybody's in hazmat suits, and they're testing us very regularly.

"They've shut the whole of Yas Island down and built this complex with a purpose-built octagon where the fights will take place, and they've got the full hotel [booked].

"It was the same with the flight - we were in an Etihad airline that was all booked out for the UFC fighters travelling from Europe. I've never travelled business class, so that was an experience as a boy from Airdrie."

'All I can hear is banging'

After arriving, Craig and the other fighters have to self-isolate in their hotel room for two days. But they are still able to do some form of training in their room, they do have a fight coming up after all.

"UFC are very good, they kitted the room out with mats," Craig explains. "So we've got a good spaced area to do jujitsu and run over gameplans and get the sweat up. When you're consuming a lot of calories you need to burn them off."

There is one problem, though. With fighters practising in their rooms, it's not exactly a peaceful place to be.

"We've got Brad Picket, UFC bantamweight, above us and all you can hear is: 'Bang, bang, bang,'" Craig jokes.

Yas Island is not some speck of land in the middle of the sea but is a five-star resort linked to Abu Dhabi by road.

It has hosted Formula 1's Abu Grand Prix since 2009 and has staged music concerts. It also has several theme parks - including Ferrari World, which boasts the world's fastest rollercoaster - plus a shopping mall, a golf course, a marina and a beach. Craig's isolation in his room at least comes with a view.

"I've got a balcony, and as I look out there's all these fancy yachts parked in this harbour. I've got the Richard Mille racing track across from me. Once I get out of quarantine I'll be able to go and use these facilities, but as it stands I can look but I can't touch."

Emulating McGregor

Craig, who has a record of 12-4-1, fights Russia's Gadzhimurad Antigulov on Saturday, with both ranked outside the top 15 in the light heavyweight division.

At 32, Craig recognises his time is running out, but he is determined to leave a mark on the sport.

"I'm still looking to try and get into that top 10 and be recognised and show my skills," he says.

"That's the only way you're going to get the title. Conor McGregor rose to fame so quickly within this sport because he was seen fighting top-level guys and he did it very very quickly. I'm looking to do that."