Promoter Roy Engelbrecht kicks off his 27th year in the business tonight at the OC Hangar at the OC Fair and Events Center in Costa Mesa, California. What began in 1985 as “The Battle in the Ballroom” at the Irvine Marriott is now the “Fight Club OC” at “The Hangar” which the veteran promoter has no hesitation in stating is the best small venue in the United States.
“Without a doubt,” he says, pointing to their 40-foot video screen that shows instant replay, the 50-foot ceiling and the 10 luxury suites (“There’s some mid-sized venues that don’t even have that,” he says). When the weather warms up, the hangar doors are opened up to create a cigar bar.
This isn’t an easy racket and unlike many other entities who call themselves promoters but are nothing more than television packagers who stick shows in Indian casinos, Engelbrecht does it the old-fashioned way. While many have come and gone, he has been the constant in Southern California. “We were the first to do an upscale show. Remember, we started in ’85 in a ballroom at an upscale hotel in Newport Beach, Irvine,” offered Engelbrecht, on the secret to his success. “It had never been done before and so when you’re the first, you kinda capture that audience and we’ve never given that audience up. Could you replicate this in other markets? Yes, but you have to find a market where there’s not a whole lot of things going on, where you think it would be a good fight crowd.
“Plus, realize, we’re the only fight series in the country that does a hybrid show. We have four pro boxing and two MMA [matches] on the card and that’s what we do. So we go after that MMA crowd because I’m a businessman. I don’t mind putting MMA on and I like the Generation Y and the ‘millennials’ as much as I like anybody.”
So much is talked about the supposed “death” of the boxing business lately. Engelbrecht doesn’t believe it’s dying but he says it’s tougher to survive at the lower levels. “Well, it’s very, very tough to be a club promoter anymore because everything has gone up. When we started in 1985, Don Fraser and I, we were paying fighters $100 a round. Now, it’s like $300 a round. Where we are paying $300 in insurance, medical, now it’s $3,200. So any small show, any club show you have to- and I tell people at Fight Promoter University- you have to sell a thousand tickets just to break even on that show and it’s very hard to sell a thousand tickets. Golden Boy, at their show, the Telefutura show last Saturday (February 4th), they sold 540 tickets and that was a Saturday show with Ronny Rios and so forth.
“So many are called, few are chosen to do it because you can lose $20-to-30,000 in one night. So we’re in existence because we’ve been doing it for 27 years. We’ve built a fan base; we have 3,000,000 people who live in Orange County, 10,000,000 in Southern California. If you want to see good fights at a reasonable price, you come to ‘Fight Club OC.’ Guys have tried it up in the Valley, Inland Empire, and it just doesn’t work.”
Engelbrecht is clear in saying he’s not a “club promoter” but a “minor league promoter.” Like a Bill Veeck, he tries to give the paying audience not just a fight card but an experience, one filled with fun and atmosphere.
“If I had Manny Pacquiao fighting, I don’t need atmosphere. People are paying to see the fight,” explained the promoter, who does such things as “The $500 Knockout” and “The Pizza Slice Give-a-Way” during his cards. “But when you don’t have that- and I think even some of the big-time promoters on their average cards are trying to sell their fights and the fans aren’t coming out because there isn’t any connection- and I’ve talked to some promoters who say, ‘Oh, Roy, you don’t have to sell the experience.’ I say, ‘Guys, you’re wrong.’ In this day and age, you better make it an experience for the fan or they won’t come back.
“You have to let your fans play and that’s what promoters miss. You’ve got to let your fans play the game.”
On this card is Jose “El Loco” Hernandez, the newest member of the high-flyin’ Espinoza Boxing Club. In a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” last March at this same venue, Hernandez lost a close majority decision to Luis Ramos, managed by Frank Espinoza- who just recently signed the former to a managerial pact.
Hernandez will face Jaime Orrantia.
“I know Hernandez doesn’t have the best looking record (at 11-5-1 with five KOs) but the thing is, he’s never really been properly managed and there were some close fights and disputed decisions in there. I was intrigued by what he showed me versus Ramos last year, who’s my guy. The thing is, he’s only 24 years old. Time is on our side here.”
The plan here is to get Hernandez some victories and keep him active in 2012.
“What I’d like to do is get him in the habit of winning fights and slowly build that confidence over time. If we take our time, I think we have something,” said Espinoza.