A special brand of energy surged through Atlantic City for the past week.
It could be felt on the Boardwalk, on the beach, in the casinos. It washed over the town like a summer storm.
It gave me chills.
There’s nothing like a big fight.
Saturday’s Sergey Kovalev-Eleider Alvarez World Boxing Organization light-heavyweight championship fight at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City brought the kind of electricity and excitement that can only come in boxing.
It began building as early as Wednesday, when Kovalev, Alvarez, World Boxing Association light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol and challenger Isaac Chilemba showed up at the Atlantic City PAL on New York Avenue to do some last-minute training.
Chilemba’s trainer, former three-division world champion Roy Jones Jr., was giving instructions to his fighter. At one point, Jones smacked the heavy bag with such force, it sounded like thunder.
Young, aspiring boxers, some wearing gloves that swallowed their tiny fists, stopped their own workouts and gawked.
The excitement level rose several notches during Friday’s weigh-in. To drum up interest in the fights, Hard Rock Vice President of Entertainment Bernie Dillon decided to hold it on the Boardwalk in front of the casino.
Curious beachgoers and serious fight fans gathered around a makeshift ring. Famed announcer Michael “Let’s Get Ready to Ruuuumble” Buffer announced each fighter, who stepped on the scale while New Jersey Athletic Control Board Commissioner Larry Hazzard read the weights.
The traditional staredowns brought cheers and chants from fans of the fighters.
Kovalev had a large contingent of fans that chanted his name with “New Yawk,” North “Joisey” and Russian accents.
“He draws the same people who used to watch Arturo (Gatti) in Atlantic City,” Main Events President Kathy Duva said. “The construction workers, the taxi drivers. They can relate to him because he’s one of them. Down to earth.”
Alvarez’s contingent was mixed. Some were native Colombians who cheered for him in Spanish. Others pulled into casino parking garages in cars that had Quebec license plates, which is where he now lives.
One of the unique aspects of this fight was that fans were able to legally bet on it in Atlantic City.
All four of the town’s new sports books — Bally’s Wild Wild West, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah’s Resort and Ocean Resort Casino º offered odds on Kovalev-Alvarez.
Kovalev was a prohibitive favorite to retain his title, ranging from minus-500 at Bally’s to minus-550 at Ocean’s William Hill Sports Book. Alvarez was between plus-400 and plus-425. Ocean Resort was the only one to post other odds on the fight, listing the over/under for the scheduled 12-round fight at 10.5 rounds.
Bally’s just opened its sports book Monday, and Harrah’s began Wednesday.
“There’s been a lot of interest in the fight,” said Michael Busciacco, supervisor for the sports book at Bally’s. “We had a guy come in (Thursday) and bet $1,000, though I can’t say which side he took. We’re expecting boxing to be a big part of our business, especially the fights in Atlantic City.”
Opinions on the impact sports betting will have on boxing in town vary.
Duva is among those who think it will be a big help. Dillon indicated it will help but that boxing will eventually have to stand on its own. Hard Rock has yet to add sports betting.
Naysayers have argued that boxing will not be able to sustain interest.
Count me among the “Ayesayers” who think boxing can thrive again.
Here’s hoping the buzz created by Kovalev-Alvarez and the upcoming ESPN card at Ocean Resort on Aug. 18 will mark the start of a boxing comeback in town.
I want to get chills again.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesday and Sunday in The Press.