Local combative sports got off the canvas in 2018.
Professional boxing and mixed martial arts both enjoyed a resurgence in Atlantic City, combining to stage 21 shows in town.
The variety of events was especially impressive, due in large part to the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino.
Soon after opening their doors in June, both properties decided to make boxing and MMA a part of their entertainment menus. Hard Rock hosted two HBO World Championship Boxing cards at Live at Etess Arena, plus the new MMA Pro League in September. Ocean stepped up with a Top Rank card on ESPN at its Ovation Hall and two Pro Fighters League MMA cards. All of the events drew great crowds.
On the boxing front, it was nice to see Bob Arum and Top Rank back in town for the first time in five years. Main Events and Kathy Duva returned with two shows at Hard Rock that marked their first shows on the Boardwalk since 2014. Special kudos also go to Debbie LaManna of Millville-based Rising Star Promotions for continuing a successful run with four cards at Showboat Atlantic City.
The event that packed the most punch, however, was “UFC Fight Night” on April 21, which drew an announced crowd of 9,541 to Boardwalk Hall.
The only thing missing in 2018 was a major boxing card at Boardwalk Hall’s main arena. There hasn’t been one there since Kovalev beat Bernard Hopkins on Nov. 8, 2014.
There are no fights scheduled there yet in 2019, though I’m desperately hoping the various entities and casinos can find a way to bond and bring Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury II to town in the spring.
Before we move ahead to 2019, let’s take a look back at 2018. Here are some of the fights and fighters that made it a special year.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR (boxing): DeCarlo Perez-Antowyan Aikens. (Sept. 8, Showboat). The two Atlantic City fighters delivered a memorable performance. Perez earned an eight-round unanimous decision in an action-packed super-middleweight bout that brought out the best in both fighters.
FIGHT OF THE YEAR (MMA): Smealinho Rama-Jamie Abdallah. (Aug. 30, Ocean Resort). Rama and Abdallah needed a first- or second-round stoppage in the PFL 7 bout to advance to the light-heavyweight playoffs. The result was a bloody brawl that ended with Rama earning a TKO at the end of the second round.
KNOCKOUT OF THE YEAR (boxing): Sergey Kovalev-Eleider Alvarez. (Aug. 4, Hard Rock). Alvarez scored a stunning, seventh-round knockout to win the WBO light-heavyweight title.
KNOCKOUT/SUBMISSION OF THE YEAR (MMA): David Branch-Thiago Santos. (April 21, Boardwalk Hall). This middleweight bout was part of UFC Fight Night 128. Branch dropped Santos with an overhand right and followed with a flurry of strikes that ended the fight in the first round.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR (boxing): Christian Carto. The 2015 St. Augustine Prep graduate went 4-0 in 2018 to improve to 17-0 with 11 KOs.
FIGHTER OF THE YEAR (MMA): Cesar Balmaceda. The 2014 Atlantic City High School graduate won the interim lightweight title for Cage Fury Fighting Championships with a first-round TKO over Damian Norris on Dec. 14 at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. The 23-year-old won two fights in 2018 to remain unbeaten at 6-0.
BEST DECISION: Hard Rock CEO Jim Allen and Vice President of Entertainment Bernie Dillon kept Mark Etess’ name on their arena. Ettess, a former Trump executive, was among five people killed in a helicopter crash Oct. 10, 1989.
WORST DECISION: Whoever thought it was a good idea to have the Kovalev-Alvarez rematch in Frisco, Texas, this Feb. 2 should be ashamed. The fight is being held at the Ford Center at the Star, otherwise known as the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility, the day before the Super Bowl. Considering Atlantic City’s sports books will be packed that weekend, it should have been a no-brainer to bring it to the Boardwalk.
BEST FIGHTERS WHO USED TO BE PRO BASEBALL PLAYERS: (Tie) Quian Davis andMagic Mears. Davis, a 1999 Buena Regional High School graduate, is a heavyweight boxer. He spent two seasons in the Miami Marlins’ minor-league system. Mears, a 2001 Vineland grad who is an MMA fighter, played for the Atlantic City Surf in 2007.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.