PHOENIX – Losing a major sporting franchise always hurts. City pride deflates. One less steady entertainment option. Like an old friend leaving town.

Yet, if any city can cushion the loss of a team, it’s Phoenix, which parted ways with the NHL’s Coyotes, who are headed north to Salt Lake City.

So long, ice.

Hello, spice.

Because hockey’s departure has created a firmer embrace between the greater Phoenix area and the sport it has long been more fond of – prizefighting.

Boxing returns to the home of the city favorite Phoenix Suns on Saturday night, when Mexico’s reigning champion Juan Francisco Estrada meets 10-years-younger, two-division champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez in a WBC junior bantamweight title fight streamed by DAZN at Footprint Center.

The 34-year-old Estrada (44-3, 28 KOs) will likely feel the home-arena support since the greater Phoenix area is also hosting Mexico’s soccer team Sunday when “El Tri” meets Ecuador in a Copa America match at nearby State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Yet, at 24, San Antonio’s Rodriguez (19-0, 12 KOs) boasts such sublime skill and power, he easily has the potential to win over supporters during the bout that also features former flyweight champion Sunny Edwards in the co-main event.

Both men made the 115-pound weight limit Friday and assured they are poised to make a classic.

“I was born to be here and I’m ready to put on a show,” Rodriguez said.

Estrada answered, “Because of my experience, that will be a very positive factor and I’m very confident in how I’ve prepared for this fight. I always go for the knockout and I will try to win convincingly.”

It was Rodriguez and Edwards who appeared in the Valley of the Sun in December, “Bam” prevailing in an all-action later-rounds stoppage.

A month later, former junior-middleweight champion Jaime Munguia parlayed another packed-arena victory at Footprint over England’s John Ryder to a May shot at undisputed super-middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas.

Munguia delivered a spirited effort in losing to Alvarez by unanimous decision, and there’ve been reports he’s headed back to Arizona Sept. 21 for another main event.

“There’s money there and fans there,” International Boxing Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler of Top Rank told BoxingScene.

“That’s an educated boxing fan there  – has been for years when we brought (a young) Sugar Ray Leonard to Tucson and Tommy Hearns (to Phoenix in a 1981 welterweight-title defense) against Randy Shields. It’s accepted as a southwest-Latino audience, and if you bring those fans a good attraction, they’re going to show up.”

A noted sun worshiper, England-based Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn first discovered Phoenix by making the Daniel Jacobs-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. match in 2019, when Chavez Jr. quit on his stool after five rounds and triggered a rain shower of beer bottles from the impassioned fans.

“We did like 8,000 that night – wild crowd – and then we’ve come back (repeatedly). This fight felt like a Phoenix fight, and there’ll be somewhere around 10,000 (fans),” Hearn said.

“I like the passion. I like the knowledge. Their friendly-ish. They like their boxing. They get (in their seats) nice and early. When there’s a good card, they know.”

Trampler said he’s especially “thrilled” to see how vibrant the Phoenix boxing market is now because he formerly lived here, meeting his wife, Laura, here in 1990.

“Best match I ever made,” Trampler said.

Without breaking news, Trampler said it’s possible Top Rank would bring back southern Arizona’s former two-division champion Oscar Valdez to return here following a March triumph in Arizona to meet WBO super-featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete in the rematch of a bout staged in Arizona last summer.

It’s those types of fighters – and the fights they’ll make – that encourages promoters to consider Phoenix.

One boxing official cracked, “Now you know why they didn’t bring Shakur Stevenson’s last fight” to Phoenix.

Last week, when a fight was announced at Southern California’s Dignity Health Sports Park, known as the “war grounds” for the decade-plus of fervent action at the outdoor venue in Carson, Calif., someone from the venue wondered why it’s been so long between fights.

They’ve moved slightly east … .

“I’m here in Miami now with (WBO 140-pound champion) Teofimo Lopez. He’s the kind of fighter who’d Phoenix love,” Trampler said. “Same with Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia. It’s a much bigger market than many think. It’s about population and the press.”

The only thing that irks Trampler is that the hometown Arizona Republic hasn’t covered the sport well since the departure of Phoenix’s own Norm Frauenheim (now with BoxingScene) from the staff.

“I get that the newspapers are shrinking, but not getting any attention (from the Republic) when clearly the population’s interest is there? They can say they don’t have the advertising, or justify it however they want, but the public awareness of these fights is obviously there,” Trampler said.

“I guess it’s all the online news and social media at play, because a lot of people are paying a lot of money to attend fights there.”

Hearn speculates it also has to do with the sport’s improving health, following the heavyweight unification and other major bouts in Saudi Arabia.

“We’re selling a lot of tickets – here, and in Philadelphia (where Hearn’s welterweight champion Jaron “Boots” Ennis headlines a card this summer). It does have a positive effect,” Hearn said.

“We’re seeing big fights. And boxing feels big again.”