This story was originally written for Alaska Public Media.
Oct. 18 was Alaska Fighting Championship’s 134th match, but the second one held at the Alaska Airlines Center. Fighters like Isaiah “Midnight Shadowz” Edwards and Rob “Calm Bomb” Rovera took to the ring to put their gloves to good use.
Sarah Lorimer, president of AFC, said the move wasn’t easy. A lot of memories and fights have happened in the Sullivan’s cage. The Sullivan has been home to the fights for over a decade, but there are features of the new venue Lorimer says were difficult to pass up.
The Airlines Center has digital screens and scoreboards, and fans can sit closer to the action. Parking will also be free for spectators, something that the Sullivan didn’t offer. Lorimer says the technology the center has is better for in-person viewers.
“We just thought it would be a better home over here with some of the technology they have available to enhance the experience, not only on the live paper view stream but also our live experience with the fans,” Lorimer said.
AFC fighters can be seen in more than 200 countries around the world. Lorimer made a deal last year between the Ultimate Fighting Championship and AFC, giving local fighters better odds of making it in the big leagues.
The new venue also sports a new cage, which is a 24-foot long, $30,000 hexagon instead of a standard octagon. The flooring has extreme grip so fighters can’t slip when they’re trying to deliver a head kick. The center’s general manager, Chris Orheim says one of the most loved amenities by users of the Center is their dressing rooms.
“Almost all of our dressing rooms have video monitors that run through our central studio. Whether its the great Alaska Shootout, or the AFC, the fighters, the teams, the artists coming up have a chance to see what’s going on out on stage or out on the court,” Orheim said.
Throughout the years, the Alaska Airlines Center has slowly taken venue slots from the Sullivan Arena. The Sullivan opened its doors to the Anchorage bowl in 1983 and hosted the GCI Great Alaska Shootout until the Alaska Airlines Center was built. The Shootout transferred its fans to the Alaska Airlines Center after it opened in 2014. The state high school basketball championship has also relocated to the Alaska Airlines Center.
Lorimer says the response from fans, fighters and sponsors to the AFC move has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve had longtime sponsors that have been with us for over 10 years and they were literally jumping for joy when they got in here. It was a well-welcomed move,” Lorimer said.
The Sullivan still has UAA hockey fans to fill its seats, but not the Alaska Aces, who played a minimum of 38 games at the venue per season. The Sullivan still hosts trade shows, concerts and graduation ceremonies for high schoolers.
Before AFC’s withdrawal from the Sullivan Arena, the building had operating losses of almost $600,000 in 2016.