In the nightclub business, venues and VIP hosts are often found fighting for customers only in the figurative sense of the word. But on May 20, Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel hosted a charity event, Fight Club, and asked dozens of nightlife personalities to lace up their gloves and face one another in the ring for both bragging rights and a good cause: Smile Train, an international charity that provides cleft lip/palate surgery to those in need.
The charity boxing tournament featured a 12-fight card with representatives from almost every nightclub organization in the city throwing jabs and uppercuts in fights that lasted for three, two-minute rounds. Viewers packed The Rock’s all-new Joint concert venue, and each forked out $23 for a ticket to watch the chaos and support Smile Train. This was the second installment of the popular promotion, which launched last November after Hard Rock nightlife mavens Mike Myers and Greg Costello saw a Big Apple charity event where big-firm stockbrokers entered the ring for charity.
“People in Las Vegas are very competitive, but especially in the nightclub industry where natural animosity exists because we are in competition with each other,” Costello notes, before adding with a laugh, “We all love to mix it up with each other.”
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill charity boxing event with blown-up boxing gloves and humorous costumes, and it definitely wasn’t about muscle-bound bottle-pushers and doormen getting together to knock heads. Costello points out that each fighter had to be licensed by Nevada Amateur Boxing and the matches featured amateur boxing judges, doctors and referees who administered the fights along the same rules as the ones governing the Olympics.
The team at the Hard Rock put out a general call for boxers and then tried to match up fights along weight class and experience levels because, as Costello puts it, “We don’t want anyone to come out there and get outclassed.” Most of the participants spent months training in some of Vegas’ top boxing and mixed martial arts gyms, often giving up alcohol and cigarettes to take their training seriously. And while many of the fights are arranged by coincidence, some boxers come in looking to take on someone in particular and address a more personal agenda. One bout that had the packed house buzzing with anticipation featured former Studio 54 (MGM Grand) doorman and newly anointed Body English (Hard Rock) VIP host Jon Opas, who challenged his former boss and MGM Grand director of nightlife Anthony Olheiser to meet him in the ring. Who wouldn’t want to go a few rounds with their former boss?
During the inaugural event in November, boxers provided thrilling one-punch victories and painful knockouts, ensuring the crowd was hooked and cementing Fight Club as a semiannual event at the Hard Rock. For Costello, a boxing enthusiast since his youth who has been training more seriously in recent years, starting Fight Club last year was an opportunity to take his passion out of the gym and into his other favorite arena, nightlife. But the reasons for participating vary from boxer to boxer. “They don’t have to do it and we’re not certainly not doing it for a living,” Costello notes, adrenaline starting to flow as he pictures himself in the ring. “It really is an unbelievable feeling to step into a ring knowing some guy is going to be punching you in the face. You really have to respect all of these guys for doing it. They find out a lot about themselves. It looks like fun and games, but inside the ring, you’re getting hit with real punches and it hurts.”
There are also plans to get more female nightlife personalities involved in the mix after last month’s successful introduction of Fight Club’s first female participants, Rehab bartender Cortney Bond and Hot Rod Grill bartender Caitlin Mercer. Both women fearlessly got in the ring for a fight that featured furious back-and-forth action.
During his second fight club appearance, Costello took on his biggest challenge: battling it out in a fight that represented one of Vegas’ longest-running feuds, Hard Rock versus the Light Group, and fighting the largest boxer to date, LG security manager Mike Cirullo. “I want to fight the biggest, meanest guy I could find,” he hyped during his pre-fight video introduction. But during our interview after that, he notes quietly, “No one else wanted to fight him. Cirullo defeated Costello in the final fight of the evening.
“He surprised me a lot,” Costello respectfully says of Cirullo. “I didn’t think he’d have the stamina to go three rounds.” But redemption is certainly sweet, and Cirullo has already accepted Costello’s request for a rematch, leading Costello to add with a smile, “Light Group versus Body English is always something to get excited about it!”
All bragging rights and pride aside, it is the charity Smile Train who is getting the most out of the event. While Nevada Amateur Boxing always receives a $5,000 donation for its role in the event, Smile Train takes home the rest, which is estimated to be about $40,000, including a major donation from an anonymous donor. Costello estimates more than 80 children can receive the procedure, thanks to the event. “It’s a simple procedure, but without it, some children cannot even get the nourishment they need to survive,” says Costello with a more serious tone. “It’s a charity that is near and dear to my heart as it helps these children become more accepted in society, get married, raise children, etc. It’s also an especially fitting charity for the nightclub industry to support because a lot of our jobs have to do with our appearance,” he adds.
The packed house featured not only dozens of nightlife personalities, but also some notable attendees, including Bellagio czar and poker champion Bobby Baldwin, Planet Hollywood magnate Robert Earl, famed casino host Bob Mancari, Blush Nightclub and DayDream Pool Lounge owner Sean Christie and major investors of the Hard Rock’s in-progress expansion project. “This past fight night, we really saw this event grow from an event for nightclub people into an all-out affair,” Costello proudly states, no doubt envisioning Fight Club’s third installment in November.
No matter how many fighters hit the canvas, see standing eight counts or have their arms raised, with Vegas’ nightclub elite putting their pretty faces on the line, the true winner is the worthwhile charity.