Does Fight Club OC Have the Winning Combination?
There is such a thing as the perfect punch. When Huntington Beach grappler Ozzie Alvarez charged in, Irvine's Luis Salgado timed it perfectly and cut loose with an overhand right that caught Alvarez squarely in the jaw. Alvarez's shoulders slumped, and he thudded to the canvas, limp. Simultaneously, 1,500 fight fans sprang to their feet. If this had been a boxing match, that would have been it. But even though the Feb. 24 bout was taking place in a boxing ring, not an octagon, this was a mixed-martial-arts fight. Salgado pounced on his prostrate foe, raining down more blows. In this one moment, with the capacity crowd inside the Orange County Fairgrounds' new venue the Hangar in a frenzy, the debut of promoter Roy Englebrecht's boxing/MMA hybrid, Fight Club OC, became a hit
The Fountain Valley-based Roy Englebrecht Promotions is no new player in the fight game. Following his seven-year run as the head of promotions for the Lakers, the Kings and the Forum, Newport Beach resident Englebrecht partnered with the Irvine Marriott to produce the Battle in the Ballroom, America's longest-running independent boxing promotion.
"I always felt I could put butts in the seats," says the silver-haired Englebrecht, who, at 65 years old, has an inability to sit still that suggests an overcaffeinated teenager. Starting in 1985, his every-other-month Marriott shows were a boxing purist's dream. For a comparatively modest price (tickets ranged from $32 to $55), fight fans could catch the likes of future world champions Shane Mosley, Genaro Hernandez and Sergio Mora during their ascent. Sure, the setting better suited a real-estate seminar, with its low ceilings and wedding-appropriate chandeliers only feet above the fighters' heads, but more often than not, Roy sold every seat in the house.
Over the years, the ballroom cards hosted many regional- and state-championship bouts, as well as showcasing multiple future and former world champions, but Englebrecht makes it clear he considers it a "club show."
The Thursday-night cards represented a melting pot of class and ethnicity for decades. Lawyers sporting the same outfits they were in when they stepped off the 18th green would slap backs and spill Budweiser with the Spanish-speaking families of the fighters and trainers from local gyms. All seats were on the same floor, everybody stood in the same beer lines, and they all were splattered with the same blood and sweat.
"I'm a firm believer that perception is key," Englebrecht says. "You want to be where everybody else is, and there was uniqueness with the Battle of the Ballroom: It was intimate, it was packed, and there was that energy, but every year, I would have season-ticket holders who would say, 'Roy, you gotta move.'"
Indeed, this is the age of the luxury box. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hung a TV roughly the size of an aircraft carrier directly above the field of play. A good seat at the ballpark now involves a waiter or waitress ready to run and grab sushi.
"I thought many times about growth," Englebrecht says. "I'd go over to the Bren Events Center at UC Irvine and think I could probably sell 500 more tickets and have maybe 2,000 people—but then I'd have 3,000 empty seats. People would say I was losing my touch!"
Another problem: the shift in the public perception of boxing itself. The sweet science has taken a back seat in Orange County (and elsewhere) to its tattooed cousin, MMA. Clothing once dubbed "street wear" is now "fight wear," and half of the best-known pro fighters of any kind are named Silva. Boxing, on the other hand, sinks further into an alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies; its two biggest names, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, find new and exciting ways to avoid facing each other; and Everlast just isn't doing Affliction numbers.
Enter Roy's 31-year-old son, Drew, head of operations and marketing for the Englebrechts' new venture, Fight Club OC. With his slight frame, jet-black hair and visible tattoos, Drew clearly represents a different era for the company. The former musician with a degree in sociology strongly prefers MMA, longs for a flashier presentation and sees huge things for the future.
"We started [to hybridize] the cards"—the Feb. 24 event hosted five boxing matches and two MMA bouts—"after we did the boxing and MMA World's Collide Tournament at Primm Casino in 2009," Drew Englebrecht says. "That was a co-promotion with junior middleweight world champion boxer Fernando Vargas. We thought, 'This is such a great concept; let's just tweak this and that,' and, badda-bing-badda-boom, Fight Club OC was birthed."
What exactly is Fight Club OC, and how does it differ from the Battle of the Ballroom? The event will take place alternating months, but while also seating 1,500, the Hangar is far different from the ballroom. The metal ceiling arcs 50 feet overhead; the exposed beams, cement floor and the constant presence of metal make the place as ideal a home for the Spruce Goose as a night of fisticuffs. On the night of the event, the north wall holds a 45-foot digital-projection screen so patrons won't miss a single punch or submission hold. Perhaps most notably, Fight Club OC offers elevated and catered luxury suites.
As for these suites, the Englebrechts would appear to have hit the bull's-eye with Orange County's upper crust. Of the 10 suites available, the Englebrechts held one in reserve to woo prospective clients, but the rest were sold out and filled to their 12-person-per-box capacity.
"I never made it to the Irvine Marriott, and we just bought this box for the one night, but we're in for the long haul now," says Jeremy Foti, 37, of Brookstone Law when asked about his firm's feelings about the luxury accommodations.
Floor seats at the event ranged from $40 to $75—not a significant escalation from the ballroom. Judging by the hundreds of Latino supporters howling to the canned Mexican-regional ring-walk tunes and chanting, "Te-co! Te-co!" in support of junior welterweight boxer Hector "Teco" Serrano, while standing side-by-side with flat-billed Anglos sporting HB Ultimate tees, the melting pot remains intact but evolved. The next Fight Club OC is scheduled for April 21
"With everybody and their mothers training MMA these days, someone has to meet that demand and give them a place to fight," Drew Englebrecht says after the event's successful debut. "We are that vehicle. I wish I could get my pop to allow me to run three MMA and three boxing, but it's not easy changing what has been working for so long."
This article appeared in print as "A Winning Combination: Roy Englebrecht’s Battle of the Ballroom is no more, but he hopes that
a card of both MMA and boxing will make Fight Club OC a hit."
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