Sergey Kovalev vs Eleider Alvarez

Hard Rock brings boxing back to A.C., beginning this Saturday with Sergey Kovalev, left, defending his WBO light-heavyweight title against Eleider Alvarez, right.

Newly minted Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City and Ocean Resort Casino bridge Atlantic City’s glittering past and its eye to the the future with four upcoming, nationally televised events. It’s an August A-train, carrying a premier level of boxing and mixed martial arts competitions through Atlantic City. The featured stops occur on two Saturdays, Aug. 4 and Aug. 18, along with two Thursdays, Aug. 16 and 30.

All aboard

Hard Rock opens the schedule this Saturday with Sergey Kovalev defending his WBO light-heavyweight title against Eleider Alvarez, televised nationally by HBO and worldwide via international production at the Etess Arena. Ocean Resort follows in the boxing realm Aug. 18, when world-ranked heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Alexander Dimitrenko collide on ESPN.

A unique MMA format unfolds when the Professional Fighters League (PFL) invades Ocean Resorts, Aug. 16 and 30, on NBC Sports.

Kovalev-Alvarez bridges two eras of Atlantic City’s stature. Main Events, headlined by New Jersey’s Kathy Duva, promotes Kovalev. Duva also promoted the late Arturo Gatti, whose string of Boardwalk Hall sellouts in the early 2000s and multi-million dollar economic impact here may never be matched.

Another prominent player Saturday is Hard Rock executive Bernie Dillon, who brings the first major fight to its Atlantic City location. Dillon was a significant catalyst in the Mike Tyson era at Trump Plaza, which included the famous Tyson-Michael Spinks blockbuster in 1988 at Boardwalk Hall. Dillon, who went on to deliver sports and entertainment events to Hard Rock in Hollywood, Florida, returns home to place this bout in the arena named for his friend, the late Mark Etess. It was Etess, using his boxing connections and the bankroll of current President Donald Trump, who orchestrated Atlantic City’s move to replace Las Vegas as the boxing capital of the world in the late 1980s.

That later changed, but the gloried past resurfaces on Saturday. Kovalev, one of boxing’s top pound-for-pound performers, waged his only three Atlantic City fights in 2014. He capped the run with a brilliant decision victory over Bernard Hopkins at Boardwalk Hall. It was a signature triumph for Kovalev, who used more of his boxing skills than exceptional punching power to defeat one of the top fighters of the last quarter century.

Kovalev, 32-2-1 with 28 knockouts, captured his first light-heavyweight crown in 2013. After eight successful defenses, the native of Russia lost consecutive bouts with Andre Ward in 2016 and 2017. Following Ward’s retirement, Kovalev regained his championship with a second-round knockout of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy at New York’s Madison Square Garden in late 2017. In March 2018, Kovalev, now 35, defended the title with a seventh-round knockout over Igor Mikhalkin at Madison Square Garden.

Alvarez, a 34-year-old native of Colombia, has been a recent spoiler, sporting six consecutive wins in Canada. His 23-0 mark with 11 knockouts includes two unlikely victories in his opponents’ backyard. Last year, he triumphed over heavily favored Jean Pascal and Lucien Bute, both popular Canadian fighters, in Quebec City and Montreal. Those wins paved his entry into this fight. Alvarez is the eighth-ranked contender.

Dmitry Bivol of Russia headlines the undercard, defending his WBA light-heavyweight title against Isaac Chilemba, the 12th-ranked contender. Bivol is 13-0 with 11 knockouts. Chilemba, from Malawi in South Africa, has a 25-5-2 mark with 10 knockouts.

Fights begin at 6 p.m. Bivol-Chilemba opens the HBO telecast at 10 p.m., followed by Kovalev-Alvarez.

Two weeks later, Jennings takes his 23-2 mark with 13 knockouts and his eight-ranking by the WBO against Dimitrenko, 41-3 with 26 knockouts and 11th ranking by the IBF. The ESPN telecast begins at 10 pm.

Mixed martial arts, meanwhile, finds a younger audience with a different type of product.

The PFL 2018 campaign features 72 fighters in six weight-classes, competing in the regular season on Thursday nights in June, July, and August. The Top 8 in each weight class face off in single-elimination playoff fights on Saturday nights in October. The PFL season concludes Dec. 31 with six championship bouts back-to-back with a $10-million prize pool. The action will be televised by NBC Sports.