Certain pairings in boxing go together like peanut butter and jelly: Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach. Main Events and Atlantic City.

The relationship between Main Events and Atlantic City dates back decades, not long after the promotional company was founded in 1978 by Kathy Duva’s husband, Dan Duva. Kathy worked alongside Dan from those early days and has run Main Events since he passed away in 1996. She says Dan recognized the potential opportunity that would come from gambling being legalized in New Jersey, even though it was isolated to this one beachside location.

So they soon began to hold shows in event centers and newly opened casinos. Lots of them. 

“I can’t even give you the number of shows we did in Atlantic City over the years,” Kathy Duva said in an interview with BoxingScene.com.  

As Main Events built steam, and a stable, it turned into a promotional powerhouse but kept a steady base in Atlantic City. 

It is where Evander Holyfield fought nine times under their banner, where Lennox Lewis performed five times as a Main Events fighter, where Pernell Whitaker and Meldrick Taylor and several other notable names — stars at the time or boxers on their way to that stature —  regularly fought for them. 

It is where Arturo Gatti became synonymous both with the city and the company; Gatti spent nearly half his career there, with 23 of his 49 pro fights taking place in Atlantic City. Most of them were with Main Events, including his final nine fights bringing AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” to Boardwalk Hall.

And it is where Main Events will return on June 8, for the first time in years.

More than five-and-a-half years, to be precise. The last time Main Events hosted an event in Atlantic City was in November 2018, when Dmitrii Bivol defended his light heavyweight title against Jean Pascal.

This show will take place at Bally’s with Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna vs. Juan Carlos Abreu in the main event. LaManna — a 32-year-old middleweight who lost to Erislandy Lara in 2021 — is also a promoter. His shows have been a mix: Sometimes he’s both promoter and headliner, and sometimes he’s just the promoter. 

“He wanted to be able to focus on the fight and not all of the thousands of little things we deal with as promoters in the leadup to the event,” Duva said. “He asked us to help him out and work with him on the event and handle all those little tasks. He’s such a nice kid. We really like him and said, ‘Why not?’”

These have been leaner years for the storied promoter. The schedule has been lighter and the stable has been smaller. Following Bivol vs. Pascal in 2018, BoxRec.com only lists seven shows that Main Events has been involved with — four in 2019, three in 2020, and none since. All of those were co-promotions with Main Events fighters appearing, the most notable instances being Sergey Kovalev beating Eleider Alvarez and losing to Canelo Alvarez, and Bivol defeating Joe Smith Jr.

That’s not to say Main Events has gone dormant. Its fighters have appeared on other promoters’ shows.

“We had a lot of guys on PBC undercards,” Duva said. “That’s where most of the guys, even the ones that have left us now, have been fighting.

“We basically are working with the groups that have come along that are finding ways to put on shows, generally through investors,” she added. “I don't know anyone [in America] without an investor that can put on a show other than Top Rank, Eddie Hearn [Matchroom Boxing] or Golden Boy right now because they have a TV deal, and PBC was fine when they had Showtime. I hope PBC does great with [Amazon] Prime because we have a great working relationship with them. The other one out there is […] Dana White and UFC Fight Pass. I think he’s well-positioned if he really wanted to make boxing work.”

Main Events is essentially in a catch-22 situation. Having more dates could help Main Events sign more fighters. And having more fighters could help Main Events get more dates.

“To develop talent, I’d have to know I have at least 4-6 shows a year to put talent on and give them the fights they need,” Duva said. “I can’t sign people even though they call here literally every day asking. You’d be amazed at the people I have to turn away. It’s a shame. If there was a casino in Atlantic City that said, ‘We’d like to have something regular every month or every other month, and here’s a fair amount of money to do it,’ I’d be there in a heartbeat.”

Duva laments the loss of boxing on HBO and Showtime. The main boxing broadcasters in the United States these days are ESPN, which mostly features Top Rank shows; DAZN, which features Golden Boy Promotions and Matchroom Boxing with some additional cards from smaller promoters; and Amazon’s Prime Video, which has worked with Premier Boxing Champions on a few pay-per-views so far in 2024.

“There's no place in America to go if you want to put on a mid-level show or a low-level title fight, as I guess we would call this one [with LaManna for the WBA’s “Gold” middleweight belt] and be able to do it and not lose money,” Duva said. “Putting on a fight at any level is a very expensive proposition. There are cheap ways to do it, but then what you’re doing is you’re having managers pay to put their fighters on the undercard. For a company like mine that was built on developing talent, putting on a show and doing that doesn’t make sense. 

“It also doesn’t usually make for very good fights, because the manager doesn’t want their fighter to lose. And if you don’t have competitive fights, then the casino or wherever you are working with won’t pay for fights anymore. They’ll give you some things, but they won’t give you cash. So you’re depending on the gate, which is variable. The only way to run a business, if you’re going to pay for your overhead and have shows that don’t lose money, is to have something certain, which would be a TV contract, even a small one.”

The Main Events website lists seven fighters but needs to be updated. In order of those fighters’ appearance on the webpage:

Sergey Kovalev was the company’s most prominent name of the previous decade as he won a light heavyweight world title on HBO and kept returning to the network, unifying three world titles and vaulting to the top of the rankings. Kovalev then lost a couple of fights to Andre Ward, one by a very close and hotly debated decision, the other by controversial eighth-round TKO. His career was up and down afterward. Kovalev won a vacant title, then got stopped by Eleider Alvarez. He won the belt back in the Alvarez rematch, then was knocked loopy by Canelo Alvarez in 2019. He also had various legal issues, in addition to racist remarks and social media posts

When Kovalev finally returned to the ring, after two-and-a-half years away, it was as a cruiserweight. He outpointed Tervel Pulev in May 2022 and then had another extended layoff. When Duva and I spoke in late March, Kovalev was scheduled to (and did indeed) return on the May 2024 undercard of Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia.

“He’s at the end of his run,” Duva said at the time. “Sergey really wants to make a run at cruiserweight. We want to help him.”

Kovalev wound up losing to an unbeaten prospect named Robin Sirwan Safar.

Bivol, one of the two top light heavyweights of today, isn’t officially part of the Main Events stable. Duva says she serves as a consultant. “I work with Dmitrii Bivol. but I don’t control him,” she said. “We gave him a lot of opportunities fighting on Sergey’s undercards. He very nicely kept me around and I’m happy to give my advice.”

Evan Holyfield, the junior middleweight son of the cruiserweight and heavyweight legend Evander, is no longer with Main Events.

Ismael Villarreal lost a pair of fights to a pair of prospects in 2023, dropping a split decision to Ardeal Holmes Jr. and a unanimous decision to Callum Walsh. Duva was able to get Villarreal into a junior middleweight tournament run by another promoter working with DAZN; Villarreal was stopped in three rounds by Brandon Adams this April.

LeShawn Rodriquez retired after losing by TKO to Villarreal in 2022, Duva said.

Main Events does have undefeated 154-pounder Bakhram Murtazaliev. Duva joined him in Germany in April as Murtazaliev won the vacant IBF world title,knocking out Jack Culcay in the 11th round.

“He is going to be a force in the division,” Duva told Phil Jay of World Boxing News afterward. “I think that Bakhram will be able to hold his own with all of the top fighters at 154. It’s just a matter of who’s up first.”

Enriko Gogokhia, who has fought between junior welterweight and welterweight, retired after a loss in March 2023, according to Duva.

And there is another Main Events fighter not currently listed on the website: Shawn McCalman, a super middleweight prospect who lost an unexpectedly competitive unanimous decision to Diego Pacheco in April.

“Basically what’s happening is I’m getting our guys fights as opponents, which I don’t like to do,” Duva told me prior to the McCalman fight. “That’s not the best situation for them. Unless you’ve got a guy who’s going to go in there and surprise everybody. [Kovalev] surprised everybody with Cleverly. He can go in there as a B-side but you’ve got to build a guy up first.”

Duva doesn’t feel comfortable growing her stable much more.

“I’ve got managers that tell me, ‘I’ll give you every fighter I have.’ Great fighters, champions. I’m stuck. That’s the problem,” Duva said. “And it’s too bad, because we’re good at what we do here. We’ve always been able to take the guys that nobody wants and make the system work for them. That goes back a long time. Bringing guys from Europe and making them stars here goes back to Lennox Lewis and Andrew Golota and [Samoan/New Zealander] David Tua. 

“Other than that first crop of Olympic fighters that Dan was able to sign in 1984, we were never in a position again to go and sign anybody we wanted. Arturo Gatti is not American. We went out and found those guys that we can find a following for somewhere. This Italian who lived in Montreal became the ultimate Jersey Boy. And that’s what we did. Doing that now, I’m not sure how. And there’s a lot of guys out there. I could literally sign Americans now if I had a place to put them.”

So where does that leave Main Events? Waiting for the shift that Duva sees coming, when the current relationships between networks and promoters change.

“When the realignment happens, I’m hoping we find our way in like we always have, because we do have the history and the ability and the expertise that it takes to make the system work for somebody,” she said.

The other option — retirement — isn’t an option at all in Duva’s mind.

“I get bored,” she told me in March. “It’s nice to have something to do. I’m going to Germany [for Murtazaliev vs. Culcay]. I’m going to Saudi Arabia for the first time [for Kovalev vs. Safar]. Everybody doesn’t get to do stuff like that. And knowing people from all over the world, especially nowadays, I communicate with people on the other side of the world with a text. That’s really cool. I’d hate to give up all those relationships. And if I just flat out retired and stay home? What am I going to do? I’d hate that.”

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.