Hours before the World Series of Fighting staged its card at Revel's Ovation Hall last Saturday, the resort was already enjoying the benefits of hosting the mixed martial arts show.
Dozens of gamblers in their late 20s-early 30s rimmed the craps tables, tossing $25 chips onto the felt before the shooter unleashed the dice. Some pondered whether to hit, stay or double-down at blackjack tables. Others rooted for the spinning white ball to land on their favorite numbers at the routlette wheel.
"The UFC show we had here last June did very well, so we decided to pursue more opportunities with mixed martial arts," Darlene Monzo, Revel's senior vice-president of marketing, said in a phone interview. "We've really focused on our table games and MMA attracts the same demographic. We've found that the same young, affluent males that love fighting also enjoy playing table games."
As a result, Revel has made MMA a major part of their entertainment menu.
On June 22, 2012, more than 5,000 fans attended the UFC's card at Revel - the organization's first fights in Atlantic City since 2007. Another 3,000 showed up on Saturday for the first WSOF show, which was shown on NBC Sports Network. Next Thursday, Chicago-based Bellator is expected to draw between 4,000 and 5,000 at Ovation Hall.
Bellator, which is considered the No. 2 MMA organization behind UFC, is making the jump to Revel after holding 11 cards at Caesars Atlantic City and Boardwalk Hall's Adrien Phillips Ballroom from 2010-12.
"We had a great relationship with Caesars and (Caesars Entertainment consultant) Ken Condon may be the best guy I've ever worked with in this industry," Bellator founder, chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney said in a phone interview. "But once we signed our TV contract with Spike TV (earlier this year), they made it clear that we needed a place with higher ceilings that would look better on TV. Also, it became apparent to us that we needed a place that could acommodate a larger crowd and would enable us to take the next step from a growth perspective in Atlantic City.
"One of our production people knew someone at Revel. I flew out to Atlantic City, took one look at Revel's unbelievable venue and was sold. Revel was also all in and I think it's going to be a great fit for us. Atlantic City is the mecca of MMA in the Northeast and we definitely wanted to stay there."
Revel, which opened last year, is among several Atlantic City casinos that are "all in" with MMA.
New York-based Ring of Combat will stage its 35th consecutive show at Tropicana Casino and Resort over a seven-year span on April 5, a day after Bellator's Revel debut. Last month, the Atlantic City-based amateur Asylum Fight League held its 40th show since 2008 at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
After a two-year run at Resorts Hotel Casino, Vineland-based Cage Fury Fighting Championships made the jump to Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa last June. CFFC will hold its third card at Borgata on May 11.
"I had wanted to put a show on at Borgata for a while, but they weren't interested in MMA at all," CFFC president Rob Haydak, a Vineland High School graduate and former wrestling coach at Sacred Heart High School, said. "I finally got a meeting with Borgata last year and they turned me down. I was very disappointed. They seemed to have the impression that MMA was a bunch of guys with tattoos just beating each other over the head with beer bottles.
"I finally convinced them to give me one show (last June 12) and they loved it. They realized that the fans who watch the fights - young men and women - were the same people who go to Borgata's casinos, bars and restaurants."
WSOF, a Las Vegas-based organization created by former kickboxing champion Ray Sefo, held its first-ever card in Las Vegas last November at Planet Hollywood. Sefo sought to expand into the Northeast and contacted Revel earlier this year.
That was also about the time Rebney and Bellator called Atlantic City's newest casino.
"We were negotiating with both of them, but were expecting to only sign one," Monzo said. "Getting both Bellator and the World Series of Fighting is the best of both worlds for us. They give us tremendous exposure on TV and also will bring a lot of people to our property."
Contact David Weinberg:
Upcoming mixed martial arts shows in A.C.
April 4: Bellator at Revel
April 5: Ring of Combat XLIV, Tropicana Casino and Resort
May 11: Cage Fury Fighting Championships 24, Borgata