ATLANTIC CITY - Atlantic City's lengthy boxing drought is about to end.

Philadelphia-based promoter Manny Rivera and his Hard Hitting Promotions company will be staging a 12-card series at Showboat Hotel starting July 31. It will be the first professional boxing show held on the boardwalk since March 7, 2020, when Rivera held a card at Bally's Atlantic City. The 16-month gap between cards is the longest in Atlantic City since the town started hosting boxing on a regular basis in 1978.

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"This has been three and a half years in the making," Rivera said Tuesday during a press conference at Showboat's Lucky Snake Arcade and Sports Bar. "And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We want to make Atlantic City the mecca of boxing again."

The Covid-19 pandemic delivered a knockout blow to Atlantic City in 2020. Restrictions slowly began to ease a few months ago, but New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delayed on allowing indoor events again. As a result, boxing and mixed martial arts promoters headed to Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania and other states to hold shows.

Ocean Casino Resort was the first Atlantic City property to bring combative sports back. The Professional Fighters League MMA organization opted to hold its six-event regular season in Ocean's protective

"Bubble," starting on April 23 and ending Thursday.

Officials from Tower Investments, which owns Showboat, sought out Rivera to bring boxing back to the beachfront property with plans to make it the hub of the sport. It had hosted eight cards between 2018 and 2020 with encouraging results.

"(Tower Investments CEO) Bart Blatstein is a big fan of boxing," said Connor Price, Tower's Vice President of Business Develpment. "He wants boxing to be the anchor of the property."

And not just professional boxing.

Plans call for amateur boxing shows, as well as other combative sports such as grappling, MMA and Muay Tai. Ring of Combat is scheduled to bring an MMA card on July 21. Showboat also plans to set up the facility to serve as training camps for the fighters, allowing them to use the fitness center, spar in a ring set up at the Lucky Snake, and take advantage of one of the world's top workout facilities located just a few steps away.

"The beach is one of the best places to get in shape," Price said.

Rivera, Price and Tower Investments President Brad Dixon all view the series as a springboard for up-and-coming fighters to build their ring resumes in hopes of earning a world ranking and eventually a title shot, much like future champions such as the late Arturo Gatti, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson did in the 1980s and 90s.

It will also allow some local boxers to perform in front of their hometown fans. The July 31 card will feature Pleasantville welterweight Anthony Young (21-2, 8 KOs). Young, who will face Louisiana's Todd Manuel (19-17-1, 5 KOs), will be making his 13th appearance on the boardwalk.

"I'm very excited to be a part of this," Young said. "I always enjoy fighting at home."

Young has been waiting a while to get back in the ring.

The 33-year-old former football standout at Pleasantville High School hasn't fought in over two years, since earning the biggest victory of his career. On May 4, 2019, he notched a third-round TKO over former world champ Sadaam Ali in Las Vegas.

"It's been frustrating," Young said. "I had a couple opportunities, but things just didn't work out and then Covid happened. I'm not going to lie. I thought about (retiring). But I'm no quitter. I'm looking forward to getting back in there and knocking off some of this ring rust."

The fights will initially be held either at Showboat's Bourbon Room or the Carousel Room, a 1,500-seat arena that was converted from a slots parlor into a site designed specifically for boxing.

But there are plans to expand. Rivera wants to eventually move the series to a 10,000-seat arena that Showboat hopes to build, thus drawing interest from major TV networks and streaming services, as well as nationally known promoters such as Top Rank, Golden Boy and PBC.

"There's a difference between sight and vision," Rivera said. "People like Bart (Blatstein), Derek and Connor have the vision to make this into something special. Hopefully, we'll be able to bring bigger fights here and when it happens, I'll gladly step back.

"I'll clean the bathrooms at the big fights or whatever they need me to do. This isn't about me. No one ever paid money to see a promoter. It's all about the fighters and doing whatever I can to help them further their careers."

PUNCHLINES: Hard-Hitting Promotions is believed to be the first organization to hold a series exclusively at one Atlantic City property since Don Elbaum and the late Ted Menas brought "Tuesday Night Fights" to the Tropicana Atlantic City in the 1980s. ... Millville-based Rising Star Promotions held over 15 cards in town at the Claridge _ A Radisson Hotel and Showboat from 2015 to 2019.

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