By BARBARA VENEZIA / CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST
Muscular arms and legs, six-pack abs all glistening with sweat under the lights. The excitement in the room reaches a fever pitch.
No, it’s not porn – though I have to admit it was alluring to watch perfect specimens duking it out at the Aug. 18 Fight Club OC, along with 1,400 other boxing and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fans at the OC Fairgrounds.
Boxing promoter Roy Englebrecht has put this sport in the spotlight since 1985, when he started his Battle in the Ballroom fight nights at the Irvine Marriott. That’s where I first met him in the early 1990s.
Today, he’s more excited about the fight game than ever. “I’m the king of minor league boxing,” he said.
This past Feb. 24, Englebrecht brought his latest venture — Fight Club OC — to the Hanger at the fairgrounds. He says it’s the perfect venue for him.
A 40-foot-video screen enables fans to see the action close up. But it’s close enough from the seats. Ticket prices range from $40 to $50. Season tickets are available as are VIP suites.
The 10 VIP suites include 12 seats apiece with beverages (cocktails, wine, beer, water, soft drinks), plus a buffet, snacks, and dessert cart. At a cost of $9,600 apiece for the season, Englebrecht said they are sold out.
The night I attended, the crowd was mostly men. “The MMA crowd attracts younger fans, while boxing tends to attract more of the baby boomers,” Englebrecht said.
Englebrecht employs two seasoned matchmakers who arrange the fights in each category. Englebrecht told me matchmakers are crucial in pairing the right combination of ability and skill. His matchmakers scout gyms and attend other fights with the purpose of bringing the brightest and the best to Fight Club OC’s audiences.
Whit Haydon of Huntington Beach is the head matchmaker. A former manager, booking agent and promoter, Whit has relationships in the boxing industry both regionally and nationally.
Mel Valenzuela is the MMA matchmaker for the organization and is originally from East L.A. and “put on the gloves briefly in his youth” according to his bio.
But no fight night experience would be complete without scantily clad ring card girls. “I’m in the entertainment business as well as the sports business,” Englebrecht said. “It takes a certain girl who can connect with a crowd.”
He went on to explain that the girls take photos with fans and are great for public and customer relations. Englebrecht’s son, Drew is the operations and marketing manager and has the tough job of hiring the ring card girls.
Roy Englebrecht Promotions is a family affair. His wife of 41 years, Nancy, handles corporate business, daughter Alison West runs the box office on event nights.
Thursday Fight Club OC holds six fight nights a season; two remain in 2011 on Oct 13 and Dec. 1.
Fight Club OC TV premiered Aug. 22 on fightcluboc.com. For $4.99, you can watch the Aug. 18 fight, but nothing beats seeing the action in person.
To watch Barbara Venezia’s “Barbara’s Bits” on Fight Club OC, go to youtu.be/irrzgiIl3HI