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From Nightingale Hospital to Rumble on the Rock, with spectators

Chris Kongo vs Michael McKinson, Welterweight WBO Global Title Fight 27 March 2021 Picture By Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing

Five hundred and two spectators converged onto the Europa Sports Complex sports hall for the Rumble on the Rock heavyweight clash on Saturday.
The razzmatazz, sparkling lights and ambiance of boxing arrived live on the Rock and in its full splendour for the first time as Dilian Whyte bid for the WBC interim world heavyweight title against Alexander Povetkin.
A total of seven fights entertained the lucky spectators watching live, with Whyte taking the final applause of the night after knocking down Povetkin.
It was a stark contrast to just a few weeks back when the same sports hall was being emptied after having served its purpose as the civil contingency Nightingale Hospital facility.
The site had been transformed a year ago to cater for any surge or overflow in patients as Gibraltar battled against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, though in the end it was not needed and went unused.
A year on, and with the vaccination programme successfully administered to over 26,000 people by the time the event started, the Rumble on the Rock became a clear signal that Gibraltar was trying to go back to some semblance of normality.
It was a new normal though that was being enacted. Where once crowds would flock onto venues quite liberally, there were stringent checks in place for anyone who attended the Rumble on the Rock this weekend.
The aim was to enable spectator events once again, but safely.
Everyone attending had been tested by the time they arrived at the sports hall, and most were vaccinated too.
On Friday night, ticket holders received their tickets via email, later followed by a notification from the Covid Rapid Test services providing them with an allocated time and barcode to take their test the next day.
The Rumble on the Rock was the first of five events which will follow the same process, the next being Gibraltar's World Cup qualifier match against the Netherlands tomorrow.
Three cultural events will follow after that.
For the first event this weekend, pre-fight testing appeared to go smoothly, with ticket holders converging on the MUGA facilities at Bayside Sports Complex, where the temporary rapid test centre had been located.
This was to be another stark contrast from what the facilities had been used for during the past year, during which it was converted to operate as a refrigeration storage facility and scanner location of the Covid-19 mortuary facilities.
Only later, when sports had resumed, was it to start operating as a testing facility, still far from its main use as a sports venue.
Although more than 500 people required testing on the day, six tables and a team of trained testers, along with a military-style allocation of times for users to attend, made the process quick and easy.
Within two minutes and with little queuing, spectators went through the process and awaited their results via email, which were received within half an hour.
Later in the evening, Europa Point would become the magnet for these same five hundred plus, but again the logistics went smoothly.
While there was inevitably more traffic in the area, people arrived in an orderly manner and there was ample social distancing as they were guided to their seats, with spacing in between.
Those attending were to be treated to some cracking fights, such as the victory of debutant Campbell Hatton "The Hurricane" against Ruiz.
They also saw Mikey "The Problem" McKinson make his claim on the WBO Global Welterweight against Chris Kongo.
Ted Cheeseman claimed the British Super-Welterweight strap in round 11 with a huge KO which had the audience rise to their feet.
Although they weren't really allowed to do so.
Fabio Wardley was next, taking out Eric Molina in the fifth round.
The fight that most had come for did not disappoint.
The interim World Heavyweight title rematch saw Dillian Whyte, seemingly Gibraltar's favourite from the support seen from the crowd, come face to face with Alexander Povetkin, who had knocked him out last year.
Whyte started the first round landing some early glancing blows which had Povetkin wobble.
There was a rumble on the Rock emanating from Europa Sports Complex as the crowd reacted.
Whyte continued switches on into the second round and sending the Russian stumbling back.
Povetkin was to try to come back fighting into the third and fourth. Although Whyte was landing his punches and Povetkin seemed to be feeling the effects, the Russian maintained himself in the fight and seemed to be looking to try and land his own KO.
Whyte did not let off and finished it off with a knock-down, levelling the scores between them and making it '1-1' as he had said he wanted to do.
His fourth-round knock-dowm earning him the title of the new Interim WBC Heavyweight Champion.
The evening, which required those watching to wear masks throughout, saw many masks come off, and the beer flowed as the singing, dancing and chanting traditionally seen at boxing events came to the forefront, watched by millions globally as sky sports boxing broadcast the fights live.
However, there was a difference in the safety levels as those present had passed stringent procedures having to prove they had either had Covid-19 in the past 180 days or had both jabs.
They also required a negative Covid-19 test result on the day as did everyone working in and around the venue.
Importantly, those attending stepped out of the venue knowing there was no longer a curfew in place as Gibraltar continues to ease Covid restrictions, albeit with caution.
For those who had made the event happen, lessons had been learnt which could now be taken forward and developed.
They even put Gibraltar on the global map, becoming the focal point for the international media following major boxing events and giving the Rock exposure across the globe as the event was broadcast live.And there was a hint from Eddie Hearn, Matchroom promoter, and Dillian Whyte that boxing might return to the Rock.
"Next time, we will be here in the summer," said Whyte, with Hearn supporting his comments and adding: "But outside."
Matchroom is also understood to have started initial discussions to also bring Netball 5s to the Rock.

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