By DAVID WEINBERG

Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall has hosted some terrific sports events in the last month.

Over 20,000 fans showed up for the annual New Jersey high school state wrestling championships three weeks ago.  Wrestlers from Cape-Atlantic League programs fared very well, with Buena Regional High School’s Shea Aretz becoming just the second local girls wrestler to win a state title with a victory in the 132-pound weight class.

A week later, mats were replaced by a hardwood floor.  The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference held its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the hall for the fourth straight year.  Saint Peter’s Men’s and Fairfield’s Women’s teams earned berths in March Madness, though both suffered first-round losses in the NCAA Tournament.

Now it’s the UFC’s turn.

The world’s top mixed martial arts organization will be returning to Atlantic City for the first time in six years when it stages a card at Boardwalk Hall Saturday night.

UFC Fight Night, which includes a main event featuring women’s lightweight contenders Erin Blanchfield (12-1) against Manon Fiorot (10-1), marks its first card in the resort since April 21, 2018.

Over 9,500 fans showed up that night.  It was the largest crowd to see a professional sports event in Boardwalk Hall in a decade, since 11,332 watched boxing legend Bernard Hopkins beat Kelly Pavlik on October 18, 2008.

It would be great to see a big crowd on Saturday, considering it’s been 10 years since a major combative sports card was held there.  There have been a few at Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom, but the last event in the main arena was on November 8, 2014, when Sergey Kovalev beat Hopkins.

Saturday’s UFC card marks a return to its roots, for Atlantic City was where it blossomed from a small, struggling company into the most respected organization in MMA.

It will be their 11th show in Atlantic City since its debut on the boardwalk at the former Trump Taj Mahal  Casino Resort – now Hard Rock Hotel Casino – for UFC 28 on November 17, 2000.

Prior to that card 24 years ago, the UFC had been struggling to gain respect.  Some states refused or were reluctant to sanction shows for a sport that had been labeled as barbaric by critics.  It had staged events in out-of-the-way locales such as the Five Seasons Event Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and the Augusta (Georgia) Civic Center.

Former President Donald Trump, who then owned the Taj Mahal, decided to bring it to Atlantic City by hosting UFC 28 "High Stakes" at the Mark G. Etess Arena. A sellout crowd of 5,000 saw Randy Couture regain the heavyweight championship with a third-round TKO over the late Kevin Randleman.

It was the first of nine UFC cards held in Atlantic City over the course of 14 years. Two more were held at the Taj Mahal before it made its debut at Boardwalk Hall with UFC 41: Onslaught on Feb. 28, 2003.

An announced crowd of 11,707 saw Tim Sylvia win the heavyweight championship with a first-round TKO over Ricco Rodriguez and lightweight champ B.J. Penn battle Caol Uno to a draw.

While UFC returns to Atlantic City on Saturday, Atlantic City super-middleweight boxer Justin Figueroa (7-0, 6 KOs) will be fighting in San Antonio, Texas.  Figueroa, a Holy Spirit High school graduate and former Atlantic City lifeguard, is scheduled to meet Christian Aguirre (8-10, 4 KOs), of Salt Lake City, in a six-rounder at Tech Port Arena.

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Speaking of boxing, world-rated middleweight Thomas LaManna of Millville will return to Atlantic City for a big fight June 8 at Bally’s Atlantic City.

LaManna (37-5, 16 KOs), who is ranked fourth by the World Boxing Association, will take on No. 9 super-welterweight Johan Gonzalez (34-2, 33 KOs) in a 12-round bout for the WBA’s gold middleweight title.

Fighting at Bally’s marks a trip back in time for LaManna.  The 32-year-old made his pro debut there 13 years ago.  On February 11, 2011, during his senior year at Millville High School, LaManna began his career with a first-round TKO over Anthony Williams, of Wilson, North Carolina.

“Atlantic City is my backyard, so it is going to be fire on June 8,” said LaManna, who has fought 21 times on the boardwalk, including seven bouts at Bally’s.

The card is being promoted by Main Events in association with LaManna’s Rising Star Promotions.  Totowa-based Main Events has been a staple in Atlantic City boxing for decades.

Its status on the boardwalk dates back to the 1980’s, when Lou Duva and his sons Dan and Dino played prominent roles in making Atlantic City a boxing hotbed with fighters such as Howard Davis, Meldrick Taylor, Evander Holyfield.

When Dan passed away in 1996, his widow, Kathy Duva, took over the company and was the force behind the late Arturo Gatti’s rise to stardom at Boardwalk Hall.

“Main Events has a long history of promoting boxing in Atlantic City,” Kathy Duva told FightNews.com. “Now that (LaManna) has an opportunity to challenge for a world title, we’re happy to step in and help so LaManna can focus exclusively on preparing for the fight.”

A victory would likely put LaManna in line for a rematch with WBA middleweight champion Erislandy Lara (29-3-3, 17 KOs).

LaManna has registered seven straight victories since suffering a first-round knockout against Lara on May 1, 2021.  His 37 career wins rank third all-time among local fighters behind only the late Richie Kates (44) and former WBA heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon (40).

Gonzalez, a 32-year-old native of Venezuela now living in Las Vegas, has won three straight and 12 of his last 13 bouts. This will be his first fight as a middleweight.

Ticket information and further details about the card will be announced at a later date.

20 Sporting Events That Happened at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City

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