I'm not certain we've ever really seen anything quite like it before.
We've come close a couple of times, right? The idea behind hosting UFC 172 in Baltimore in 2014 was to allow the city to embrace light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones. But Jones was merely the brother of Ravens defensive lineman and Super Bowl XLVII champion Arthur Jones. He was popular (and smartly played to the crowd by performing the Ray Lewis "squirrel" dance on his way to the ring), but he wasn't actually our own.
We've feted Michael Phelps on a number of occasions, be they parades or "Phelpstivals" or opportunities to watch his races on the jumbotron after Ravens preseason games at M&T Bank Stadium. Sadly there was never any Olympic qualifying event or world championships or similar competition in Baltimore.
Part of the concept of the "Baltimore Basketball Classic" in 2013 was to have the Wizards square off against the Knicks because it would allow the city to embrace then-New York superstar Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic). But while a great crowd showed up for the game, it was merely a preseason affair and lacked a truly raucous atmosphere.
You want to know how special the Gervonta Davis/Ricardo Nunez "Homecoming" fight was at Royal Farms Arena July 27? I think the closest comparison I can make to it as far as atmosphere is concerned is ... 2,131.
That's not hyperbole.
This was truly unlike anything we've seen in Charm City almost ever. A sold-out, pandemonic throng packed Royal Farms Arena not only to celebrate and support their own hometown fighter (Davis), but also to actually witness his tremendous talent up close. The moment ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. began the pre-fight introductions for the main event, the entire building whipped into an uproarious frenzy. Patrons flooded the aisles and stood on chairs. Employees who were "working" the event turned into spectators. Late arrivals to floor sections were hopeless of ever actually finding their "seat" and simply found a spot where they could lay witness to their hometown hero.
"Tank" of course did his part, dispatching his mandatory challenger early in Round 2 without much (if any) trouble, again eliciting a spine-tingling crowd response in the process.
The entire night (including wins for other Baltimore fighters like Malik Hawkins and Malik Warren) was special. But the main event was like so few events we've ever witnessed here -- Davis, a local athlete who dropped out of high school to pursue his dream, having his "rock star" moment. The Royal Farms Arena crowd greeting him as if he were like past headliners in the building, such as Jimi Hendrix or The Beatles or The Rock or Prince or The Rolling Stones.
This was so special. It was magical, really.
And it happened on the same night that nearly 30,000 people came downtown to see a football team ... hold a practice. And the same weekend the city filled a baseball stadium to see a concert. It was really an amazing weekend for the city all around. Oh ... and the event occurred on the same day that the President of the United States labeled the city "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess."
The irony of that absolutely isn't lost on me.
To be clear, I'm not interested in any sort of political discussion. Some people are fans of the president, plenty aren't. And I don't think the atmosphere at Royal Farms Arena was any sort of "protest" of the President's comments. Those tickets were sold and the folks who came downtown were there to see Gervonta Davis. The President's tweets might have been a topic of conversation for some fans in attendance, but they were far from the prevailing topic. In fact, those I spoke to seemed to be largely unconcerned by and uninterested in what the President has said.
Still, the juxtaposition was difficult to dismiss. Everyone knows Baltimore is a troubled city (one of so many in our country). You need not travel even a block from the Arena after the fight to be confronted by blight. In fact, some would argue that the wildly outdated arena itself is an example of the issues our city faces.
The President took potshots at the city in an attempt at political gain (which is certainly well within his right, distasteful as it may be to many) on the same day a child of that city brought a major event to town in an attempt to boost the area's economy. He also personally donated more than 100 tickets (to that SOLD OUT fight) to area foster kids.
So I guess I can see why those in attendance were a bit too preoccupied with Davis to concern themselves with Trump.
What a wonderful night and incredible event it was. Davis joked afterward with Showtime's Jim Gray that he'd want to fight again in his hometown (and
national pundits recognized how incredible the scene was
), but the sport's powers that be will certainly want to push his biggest fights to Las Vegas or New York or other major event towns.
If this was the only time we'll get to see an individual sport athlete hitting the prime of his career perform in his hometown, it will be one I'll never forget. But let's hope for more. With more fighters on the rise, perhaps the sport can play an even greater role in a renaissance for the city.
Photo Credit: Bill Ordine/PressBox