This week the gatekeepers to Vegas' nightlife playground stepped inside the ring and drew blood. Literally.
Casino and nightlife hosts from Tao, Body English, N9NE Group, Wasted Space and more gathered Wednesday night at The Joint to trade power suits and hair gel for shiny shorts and mouth guards in the name of charity. The Hard Rock Hotel's first host vs. host boxing tournament pitted some of Vegas' most prominent nightlife personalities against one another to benefit local non-profit boxing gym Barry's Boxing and Smile Train, an international charity that provides free surgery for children with cleft lips. Door sales for the 10-fight card raised $15,000, but inside the ring the only things given were stiff jabs and a few vicious hooks. With the gloves laced, benefit boxing became a legitimate fight.
“It was an actual sanctioned amateur boxing match,” explained Hard Rock Nightlife Events Manager and tournament co-organizer Tony Wang. “All the fighters that were involved are now licensed amateur boxers. They all trained with real professional trainers. Most of the trainers involved are former Olympians. … It wasn't for fun. It wasn't a joke. Those guys stepped in the ring for real.”
With lights flashing, a crew of professional judges and referees and local industry employees at ringside tables downing bottles and cheering on the fighters, the atmosphere at The Joint was a heady mix of sporting event and nightclub party.
The crowd, which included skateboard legend Tony Hawk, skateboarder Buckey Lasek, Wasted Space co-owner Carey Hart and Jason Giambi, fueled the fights, taunting and cheering with equal enthusiasm. During the second round light heavyweight fight between Tao's Paul DiLongo and John Thomason of Syrup Swimwear, a table packed with Tao employees made their presence known with shouts of “He sells swimwear!” As the night progressed bandaged boxers sporting swollen cheeks and jaws joined the crowd, and with liquor continuing to flow, the audience only got more fired up.
“When we called for intermission people actually booed; nobody left the room. They wanted the action to keep going,” Wang said.
Greg Costello, the Director of VIP Services for Nightlife at the Hard Rock, helped organize the fights with Wang and 1984 Olympic boxing silver medalist Ken Barry and boxed in them, as well. Costello had been doing boxing training for about a year and a half with Barry when the event began to take shape, and he lept at the chance for his first fight, a battle against Blush's Sergio Santana in the ninth bout of the evening.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” said Costello, who defeated Santana when the latter tired and decided to quit after three of four scheduled rounds. “I drive fast cars, I've ridden motorcycles, I've surfed, I've wrecked motorcycles, but that was the greatest experience ever.”
For the hosts, stepping into the ring for charity also meant putting their faces, or rather noses, on the line. Two of the fights ended in TKOs, including the headline fight in which Sirius radio personality Jason Ellis dropped Vegas local Brett Cooke in the first round. The ringside physician also called a few fights early, and a pair of fighters left the ring with what appeared to be broken noses, blood flowing freely from well-earned wounds. While the fights were amateur, the injuries were just as real as at any professional match.
“You really find out who you are when you're walking up to that ring,” Costello said. “There's no one to help you in there. It's you and that other guy, going at it.”
While Costello is already looking forward to the Hard Rock's next host versus host charity boxing event slated for sometime in the first six months of 2009, he says he's taking at least two or three weeks off from training.
“By the end of it, I said to my trainer, 'I'm done training. I'm so sick of it.' I was just ready to go in there and get to work. … The fight was the easiest part of the night for me. The waiting was the hardest, watching other people come up - people that got beat up getting in the dressing room and you're like, 'Oh my God.'”