Without question, competitive contact sports such as boxing, wrestling and martial arts are soaring in popularity among spectators and participants. Although these disciplines stalled in 2020 due to the pandemic, they are now roaring back. A widening national interest in MMA competition has positively impacted all combat sports, and the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which will include boxing and the debut of karate, should also fuel visibility and excitement.
The fact that more females are becoming involved in combat sports is also good news. For example, women’s high school and college wrestling continue to make major gains, and women’s grappling has been a focus of USA Wrestling since the 1980s.
Many cities continue to add or improve venues and this, too, is helping to attract a broadening range of combat sports events. Here are eight locales that are ready to rumble.
Cedar Point, Ohio
The state-of-the-art Cedar Point Sports Center in Sandusky totals more than 200,000 square feet. It presents 85,000-90,000 square feet of hardwood surface, a “Championship Arena” with retractable seating for fans, and a grand lobby with event space. Also included is the Lee C. Jewett Sports Medicine Center, a facility funded and operated by Firelands Regional Medical Center.
Since December 2020, the facility has hosted three youth wrestling tournaments: one team competition and two invitationals for individual athletes.
“The events definitely had more of a regional pull — especially the invitationals — but the team event saw teams from across Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” says Jake Schwerer, marketing manager at Cedar Point Sports Center. One more wrestling event is on the calendar for this year, and one is slated for 2022.
“Wrestling is an exciting sport to host at Cedar Point Sports Center. With the ability to get two to three wrestling mats per basketball court, we have the opportunity to have anywhere from 18 to 27 mats in our main court area, and another two to three in our championship court area,” explains Schwerer. “We also have a second level that looks down on the playing area that provides great views of the competition below. The amount of uninterrupted space in our venue, along with the seating space and other amenities, makes Cedar Point Sports Center a great place to host combat sports events.”
Fayetteville, North Carolina
The city offers a variety of facilities that can host combat sports. The Crown Complex, comprised of four buildings, includes a 60,000-square-foot Expo Center, an 11,500-square-foot arena, and the Crown Coliseum with a 20,000-square-foot floor and a separate theater. Other venues include the Freedom Courts Sports Complex, Fayetteville State University, Methodist University and multiple school facilities.
“We typically host two to six tournaments per year and plans are underway to add even more events,” says Amy Karpinski, sports sales manager, Fayetteville Area CVB. “We work with events of all types, from middle school competitions to professional competitions and everything in between, and we have the facilities to host small regional events up to professional competitions.”
Past events have included the AAU State Wrestling Tournament, Christy Mar-tin’s All American City Boxing Championship (which Fayetteville will host again this summer), plus a variety of other state and regional boxing and wrestling events. In May, Fayetteville hosted the inaugural Carolina Gloves Boxing Tournament.
Fayetteville is actively pursuing professional fighting, karate, jiu jitsu, fencing, LASP and MMA events, and is working to grow boxing and wrestling. “Combat sports are growing exponentially in our community, which is attractive to tournament directors knowing that we already have a solid base to assist in their events,” says Karpinski.
Located just steps from lodging, dining and attractions, the Foley Event Center is ideal for holding combat sports competitions, with past events having included youth wrestling, men’s and women’s jiu jitsu, plus grappling in children’s, teen, men’s and women’s divisions. The venue’s 55,000-square-foot main floor offers a range of set-ups for any event, and Strata Sports Flooring covers the en-tire space and can be carpeted to allow for mats to be laid down in numerous configurations.
“Foley Sports Tourism hosts two to three combat sports events per year but is always looking to expand and create new relationships with event planners looking to grow their events,” says Shellie Kichler, marketing & sales director, Foley Sports Tourism. “While FST has hosted grappling in the summer, jiu jitsu in the fall and wrestling in the winter, we are looking to increase our combat sport offerings in the fall and winter timeframes.”
As Kichler also points out, “Even in the COVID year of 2020, the number of combat sports hosted in Foley doubled. In addition, the events that are regularly hosted in Foley are seeing a growth in registration. We are looking to create new relationships with event planners that want to see growth year to year and want to work together to build their events.”
Jacksonville-Onslow, North Carolina
This military town, home to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, has held its Freedom Fight amateur boxing event for three years. Owned by the Jacksonville-Onslow Sports Commission, Freedom Fight is held in conjunction with the All-Marine Boxing Alumni and is sanctioned by USA Boxing. Several MMA events have also been hosted in the area.
The main facilities are area high schools, the Commons Recreation Complex, and the American Legion building. The boxing event is held at a local high school that has four locker rooms, a weight room and concession stands.
“The Jacksonville-Onslow Sports Commission hosts the Freedom Fight annual-ly and we have plans to start a wrestling event in 2022,” says Scott Smith, executive director, Jacksonville-Onslow Sports Commission, who adds that a few other events are also held in the area each year. “Our Freedom Fight event typically has 13 to 16 bouts and attracts a couple of hundred spectators each year.”
The Freedom Fight, which draws competitors from as far as Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte, is for amateur boxers; the wrestling tournament will target youth participants.
The Orlando region hosts a number of combat sports events annually, and the main venues are Osceola Heritage Park, the Amway Center and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Osceola Heritage Park boasts 195 wide-open acres, an indoor arena, outdoor stadium and Events Center. The 875,000-square-foot Amway Center, home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, has a multitude of amenities including state-of-the-art technology, multiple locker rooms and working media facilities. The ESPN Complex can host more than 60 sports across 10 world-class venues and claims to be the preeminent multi-sport facility of its kind in the world.
Osceola Heritage Park accommodated Top Rank on ESPN Championship Boxing this past April, and Boxeo Telemundo kicked off its spring series in May. The Amway Center hosted UFC Fight Night in 2015 and 2018. This summer, the ESPN Complex will host AAU Wrestling, and later this year will hold the ATA Songaham Fall Nationals martial arts competition.
“The Greater Orlando community has a history of hosting boxing and MMA events at the Amway Center and Osceola Heritage Park,” says Jason Siegel, president & CEO, Greater Orlando Sports Commission. “We anticipate that as one of the premier destinations for hosting sporting events in the United States, we will see even more activity in the future.”
Placer Valley, California
In Placer Valley, comprised of the cities of Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln, combat sports are popular and the area hosts two to three major martial arts events and three to five wrestling competitions annually. Previous events have included Cliff Keen’s Women’s West Coast Tournament of Champions (college and high school), Nor-Cal Summer Jiu Jitsu Championships (youth and adult), No Guts-No Glory Wrestling Tournament (middle school and high school), CCCAA North Regional Duals college wrestling, Beast of the West-RMN Wrestling (youth), Sacramento Valley Grappling Championship (youth and adult), plus various ATA California state and regional competitions.
Large events are held in two main venues. The 160,000-square-foot Roebbelen Center in Roseville provides more than 108,000 square feet of unobstructed floor space, an 11,000-square-foot lobby with wall monitors and LCD projection, and configurable 14-row telescopic bleachers. The 73,000-square-foot Hardwood Palace in Rocklin offers hardwood flooring, a full-service concessionaire and a mezzanine viewing level. Smaller events can be hosted at area high school and college facilities.
“Women’s wrestling continues to be an emerging sport that we began to develop back in 2015 when we created the Women’s West Coast Tournament of Champions,” explains Donna D. Dotti, Placer Valley Tourism’s director of sales. “After a year of no sports, we look forward to welcoming the WWCTOC to its new home, the Roebbelen Center, in December. [This event] will include a new Girls’ Middle School Division along with the well-established and ever-growing Girls’ High School and Women’s College Divisions. In fact, commitments to participate have already been received from 12 colleges.”
With 25 percent of the U.S. population within an eight-hour drive, and with close proximity to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atlanta and Oklahoma City, Shreveport is ideally situated to welcome a wide variety of sports events. The area usually hosts four youth boxing tournaments, one pro boxing event, six UFC pro events, and one or two martial arts competitions annually.
“We have hosted the LHSAA State Wrestling tournament, the USA Boxing National Championships, UFC and MMA Fights and Showtime Boxing fights. We have also hosted the NASTA Taekwondo Nationals along with other national sanctioned taekwondo events,” says Allyson Walker, marketing manager, Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission (SBSC). Shreveport has also held numerous youth boxing events including Golden Gloves, Silver Gloves and various USA Boxing events, and has hosted several USA Wrestling competitions. “In 2020, we partnered with one of our local promoters and have a six-event deal with the UFC that is live streamed around the world.”
There are several venues from which to choose, including the Shreveport Convention Center, State Fair Grounds of Louisiana, Stageworks, Brookshire Grocery Arena, and the Bossier Civic Center. The SBSC also has a partnership with LSU Health Shreveport Sports Medicine Program that provides medical staff to sporting event partners. “We host over 100 events per year and our sports commission staff is among the best in the country,” says Walker. “We truly excel with all age ranges but our real focus is on regional or national events with large participation or membership within the Southern states.”
This locale is a magnet for all types of combat sports events. “Our growth initiatives are to strengthen our local wrestling clubs, taekwondo schools and karate schools, which allows them to grow their membership and provide an opportunity for their students to compete without traveling. Hosting these tournaments builds our resume, which can bring regional, national or international competition to Snohomish County,” says Tammy Dunn, executive director, Snohomish County Sports Commission.
Previous events have included the 2021 Washington State Wrestling Association Freestyle and Greco Roman State Championships (also slated for 2022), the Bad Draw Oregon Classic wrestling tournament (2014-2019), the Pacific Northwest AAU Karate District Championships/National Junior Olympic Qualifier (2014-2019), the Pacific Northwest Karate Do Championships (2013-2019) and the 2016 Pan American Taekwondo Championships. SCSC also works with Northwest Blackbelt Academy with hosting AAU Taekwondo tournaments. On the pro side, past MMA competitions have included PFL, World Series of Fighting, Sparta Combat (Fight for our Troops) Sparta Combat League, Strikeforce Challengers and King of the Cage.
The main venue is the Angel of the Winds Arena that includes a 32,000-square-foot surface, four locker rooms, a physical training center and arena seating for 8,300 people. Other facilities include the Walt Price Fitness Center at Everett Community College, Gary D. Weikel Event Center at Evergreen Fair Park, Seaview Gymnasium at Edmonds College, Lynnwood High School and Alderwood Middle School. SDM