By: William Holmes
The first boxing match to ever be held at the legendary Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City was on July 26, 1929. During boxing’s golden years, it was not uncommon for reporters to cover approximately a hundred fights in Atlantic City. Mike Tyson fought often in the early stages of his career in Atlantic City. The ultra popular Arturo Gatti almost fought exclusively in Atlantic City until he retired in 2007. From 2000-2005 Atlantic City was host to five UFC events. Fellow boxinginsider writer Hans Olson noted that Atlantic City is Bernard Hopkins’ boardwalk empire.
However, with casinos increasingly spreading across the United States as states struggle to meet budgetary pressures, the fight scene in Atlantic City seemed to be under threat from nearby casinos and states. Arturo Gatti used to be Atlantic City’s major star, and was guaranteed to fill the seats. From 2005 until the present, the UFC has been to New Jersey and nearby Philadelphia five times, but they didn’t hold a single event in Atlantic City. Atlantic City may be Bernard Hopkins’ boardwalk empire, but he has not fought here since 2008. Many east coast fight fans wondered if the fight scene in Atlantic City would be ever be able to thrive again.
Atlantic City answered those concerns in 2011, and 2012 is looking to be a major year for the East Coast Fight Capital.
Boxing is alive and well in Atlantic City, and fans were treated to several major fights in 2011. Top featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa fought twice in Atlantic City in 2011, stopping Jorge Solis and Ponce De Leon. Middleweight Champion and top pound for pound boxer Sergio Martinez defeated Darren Barker in October of 2011, and laid his claim near the top of the pound for pound list with his thrilling second round KO of Paul Williams in late November of 2010. Super Middleweight Champion Andre Ward closed the year with a victory in the Super Six Championship with a technical masterpiece over finalist Carl Froch in December of 2011. Several local promoters such as Dee Lee Promotions and Peltz Boxing Promotions regularly hold boxing events in Atlantic City in front of rabid and enthusiastic crowds. Even Team Snooki Boxing drew a solid crowd to their boxing event featuring the Hyland brothers.
While Atlantic City does not host close to a hundred boxing events like it did in its heyday as some local journalists have informed me, we have recently seen an uptick in local mixed martial arts events. The two biggest east coast regional promotions that feature some of MMA’s top prospects are Robert Haydak’s Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) and Lou Neglia’s Ring of Combat (ROC), and they almost exclusively stage events in Atlantic City. Both promoters are avid fans of MMA who seek to put on the best bouts possible for the fans, and anyone who has attended a CFFC or ROC event will tell you that they are worth seeing. Several of the top MMA fighters you see in the UFC today got their start in either ROC or CFFC. Bellator Fighting Championships, the second largest MMA promotion in the United States, thought highly enough of the fight scene in Atlantic City to come here four times in 2011.
What’s in store for 2012?
For starters, Light Heavyweight Champion Bernard Hopkins will be making his return to Atlantic City on April 28, 2012 at Boardwalk Hall against Chad Dawson. This might be the swan song for the fountain of youth known as Bernard Hopkins, but it is without a doubt the biggest light heavyweight fight that could be made in 2012, and Atlantic City gets to host it. Hopkins last fought Dawson in October of 2011 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, a title fight featuring a Philadelphia native and a South Carolina native generated little buzz on the West Coast and sold less than expected tickets and pay per view sales. It is almost guaranteed that this fight will sell well in Atlantic City, especially since it’s only a half hour drive from Hopkins’ hometown.
Another major event will be held in Atlantic City in the first half of 2012, and that’s the long awaited return of the UFC. The UFC last held an event in Atlantic City nearly seven years ago, but their new agreement with Fox Networks allows the UFC to place events on Fox, FX, and Fuel TV in addition to their PPV offerings. UFC on FX 4 will be held in Atlantic City on June 22, 2012.
It’s only the second month of February, but with a major title fight and the UFC finally returning to Atlantic City, other promotions and title fights are sure to follow. Bellator has yet to announce their full schedule for 2012, and it will be shocking if Lou Dibella, Top Rank, Goosen Tutor, Main Events, or Golden Boy Promotions does not bring one of their major stars to Atlantic City before the year is over.
2011 was a strong year for the fight scene in Atlantic City, and 2012 is off to a stronger start.
In a nod to the past to celebrate and honor those who helped Atlantic City become the fight capital of the east coast the mayor of Atlantic City, Lorenzo Langford, plans to hold a parade of boxing legends on the Boardwalk and a black-tie gala at Resorts Atlantic City to celebrate those legends in early June. Without the great fights and fighters of the past, Atlantic City wouldn’t be what it is today.
With an eye to the future, NJ Governor Chris Christie recently signed legislation that legalizes sports betting in the state of New Jersey, provided the Federal Government overturns a federal ban on sports betting in all states except Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.
If this legislation is successful, the rebirth of the East Coast Fight Capital will be more successful than anyone could have ever imagined.