The upper echelon of the mixed martial arts hierarchy, Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to Atlantic City for the first time since 2005 at Revel on Friday, June 22.
One of the greatest fights the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ever had prior to evolving into the largest mixed martial arts promoter in the world was its fight for survival.
The UFC came under attack for what was characterized as competition so brutal it bordered on barbarism, and certainly U.S. Senator John McCain’s famous “human cockfighting” reference only further hampered an organization that was already saddled with $40 million in debt and on the verge of collapse.
In a last-ditch effort to stay afloat and gain a foothold, the UFC launched the reality show The Ultimate Fighter in 2005. The show catapulted the league into immense popularity, with one bout in particular serving as a huge catalyst to a sport that is now viewed in over 175 countries and raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from pay-per-view subscribers and live-event ticket sales.
On Friday night, June 22, Revel will host an event at Ovation Hall called UFC on FX 4. Headlined by two top lightweight (155-pound limit) contenders in a five-round main event — former collegiate wrestling standout Gray Maynard (10-1-1 UFC record) and seasoned UFC veteran Clay Guida (29-12), who once had a streak of 14 straight wins and is considered among the most exciting fighters in the sport. Doors open at 4pm and the first of 12 scheduled bouts (eight preliminary and four on the main card, all featuring fighters with winning records) starts at 5pm. Main-card bouts will be broadcast live on the Fox-affiliated FX network from 9-11pm, including Maynard-Guida.
“The UFC created the [Ultimate Fighter] idea, the owners shopped it to networks, and Spike TV bid on it,” says UFC director of communications Dave Sholler on the sport’s evolution. “Spike said they’d air it but wouldn’t pay to produce it, so Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the owners of Station Casinos and the UFC [and cousins of Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City and Las Vegas] put up $10 million to produce it.
“The first season was dynamite, and the night Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar fought [in the UFC’s season-one championships] it sent the ratings through the roof. That night the Spike TV execs pulled UFC president Dana White aside and hammered out a deal for the next season, and I can tell you [UFC ownership] did not have to pay $10 million to produce the show the following year.”
The Griffin-Bonnar bout did for the UFC what Donnie Allison’s crash and subsequent fistfight with Cale Yarborough did for NASCAR in the 1979 Daytona 500. Last year the Fox network picked up the Ultimate Fighter and it has drawn more than a million viewers every Friday starting 10pm on FX. This year it is being broadcast live for the first time in the show’s eight-year history.
“[Griffin-Bonnar] served as sort of a catalyst not just to the league’s growth, but as a breeding ground for future athletes, with Gray being one of the first prominent ones. Another guy is Rashad Evans, who Gray wrestled with at Michigan State.”
“There’s a lot of sports fans and fight fans in Atlantic City, which is awesome for me,” Maynard tells Atlantic City Weekly. “We’re pumped to be here.”
Well apprised of the UFC’s crowd-drawing capability not just among its premier 18- to 34-year old male demographic, but also with a rapidly expanding female fan base, Sholler says the league is continually sought out by many of the best arenas within and outside of the U.S., which is where Revel’s Ovation Hall enters the picture.
“With Revel it’s just a great fit for both of us,” Sholler says. “They’ve got a brand-new facility and they’re looking to bring in a combat-sport event. For our FX [Network] events we like raucous crowds, and AC is a fight town, so the stars just aligned.
“The economic impact a UFC event brings to a city can’t be understated,” adds Sholler. “In Philadelphia it brought in over $10 million in positive economic revenue. It’s a win-win for everybody involved. Our company’s owners, when they bought the company in 2001, the first event was in Atlantic City, and the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board helped us establish our unified rules of combat. Personally I’d like to see more AC events, but the league is simply that much in demand it can only stop here so often. One cool stat about a UFC event is that our typical fan will travel an average of 150 miles to come to see it live.”
Maynard has been one of the UFC’s top contenders at 155 pounds for about two years (he’s currently ranked No. 4, Guida at No. 8 in the lightweight division). He is one of only two UFC fighters ever to defeat former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar of Toms River (14-2-1), whose other loss was his most recent in a February fight against Benson Henderson, who took his lightweight belt in Japan. Maynard’s draw and only loss were also against Edgar. Guida has victories over top UFC contenders Takanori Gomi (33-8) and Anthony Pettis (15-2).
“Clay Guida obviously brings it every time,” says Maynard. “He just keeps coming at you and turns it into a brawl. For me, I think [the promoters] put this on the card because they want to see a good, crazy fight here. We’ll both be prepared and we’ll throw it down. I’m looking for a KO but we’ll see. It’ll be a good fight, I can guarantee you that.”
“Our president [White] has said this has potential for fight of the year, and it hasn’t even happened yet,” says Sholler. “If you know Clay Guida and his past fights and his intensity, and you know Gray and his past fights, this is the prototype fight for Atlantic City. This is an Arturo Gatti-style fight where you’re going to get two guys who are not going to dance around and try to avoid each other. They’re going to go right at it. It’s going to be a very Atlantic City-style fight and don’t think for a second we didn’t have that in mind when we put this fight together.”
UFC on FX
Where: Revel, 500 Boardwalk, A.C.
When: Friday, June 22, 5pm (doors open 4pm)
How Much: $75 to $350
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A comprehensive listing of entertainment coming to the Atlantic City casinos, Boardwalk Hall and Bader Field.
"I think Atlantic City is one of the most exciting cities in the world and it deserves having one of the most exciting sports in the world."
Mixed martial arts first surfaced on my radar in the late '80s thanks to a couple of movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bloodsport and Kickboxer. Both climaxed with an underground Asian mixed martial arts competition referred to in one film as the "Kumite." The fights, featuring men of different weights and different martial arts styles, were fascinating, despite being staged for a film. Van Damme's martial arts movies have been a guilty pleasure ever since. Mixed martial arts fight programs have exploded in the United States in the last decade, and Atlantic City has been a major venue in the development of the sport. Mixed Fighting Championship: USA vs. Russia, takes place this Saturday, May 14, at the Trump Taj Mahal. Coming up on June 4 at Boardwalk Hall is the UFC 53: Heavy Hitters (Ultimate Fighting Championship), hosted by the Trump properties, and available as a Pay Per View Event. These cards are part of an ongoing marketing push to gain wider mainstream recognition for mixed martial arts. Linda Powers, vice president of marketing for the Taj says their participation in mixed fighting is simple economics. "These events typically sell-out, and the arena has 5,000 seats." Tickets run from $35 to...
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