Entertainment With A Punch
What began right after Hurricane Katrina, has been on hiatus during the pandemic, and celebrates its 50th anniversary tomorrow night? If you answered “Friday Night Fights”, treat yourself to a ringside seat!
The brainchild of Mike Tata, the fights emanate from his Friday Night Fights Gym, though the spectacle itself takes place outside on a lot on O.C. Haley Avenue. In addition to owning the gym, which he initially founded on Freret Street in 2005, Tata produces and promotes the Friday Night Fights. He staged the first bouts within months after the post-Katrina flooding devastated New Orleans.
And a spectacle it is: while boxing matches are the focal point of the event, between-fight action includes everything from circus acts to singers and dancers, burlesque performers to drag queens.
“Even if you don’t like fights,” said Tata, “there’s so much entertainment, you’re gonna have a good time anyway.”
Tata acknowledged that “the boxing crowd is not big enough by itself,” which is why the additional performances are part of the mix. The entertainment is definitely adult-oriented – Tata described as “R-rated” – and the mix of performers draws a similarly eclectic crowd.
Despite the glitz and glitter, Tata is committed to boxing as a sport, and is happy to do what it takes to bring in new aficionados. “Some people don’t know they’re boxing fans until they go to a boxing event,” he pointed out. “And it goes both ways, we also get new fans for the other entertainment.
“Some people don’t know they like drag queens until they see them either,” he added with a laugh. “This is New Orleans!”
In its heyday, boxing was a big deal in the city. The sport was long seen as a way for young men from disadvantaged backgrounds to fight their way to a better future. However, corruption, power-grabbing and a string of questionable judging decisions at the national level damaged boxing’s credibility. At the same time, the rise of sports like basketball and football offered alternate opportunities, and when Tata started his operation, boxing was virtually nonexistent in the Crescent City.
“This show brought a whole sport back in New Orleans,” said Tata, who, like most promoters, is not given to understatement.
The evidence, however, supports his claim. One Friday Night Fighter, Jeremy Hill, recently had his first bout on Showtime. Other undefeated pugilists, such as Sean Hemphill, Jonathan “John Boy” Martell, and John Guidry, are currently undefeated and working their way up the ranks of their respective weight divisions. In a city where youth opportunities are chronically lacking, Tata’s gym and shows are a legitimate outlet and potential path forward.
The sport continues to lag nationally, and Tata’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, with coverage in publications such as Sports Illustrated and Maxim. As Tata observed, “There is no NFL without high school football, and there is no professional boxing without local events.” If the sport is ever to regain a larger piece of the national spotlight, the Friday Night Fights approach may turn out to be the generator.
All this will be celebrated in style on Friday night, Aug. 27 (tomorrow night), as Tata puts on his 50th show. Ten matches will fill the boxing card, with the usual array of high-energy, slightly risqué entertainment between bouts. Food and beverages will be available, but patrons are welcome to bring their own coolers and refreshments. Ringside seats, in three rows around the boxing canvas, are $100 each, with general admission just $20. Tickets are available via www.bestofneworleans.com/tickets.
All COVID protocols will be followed, though as an outdoor event, vaccination/testing mandates are not applicable.
In a city known for its vast array of entertainment options, Friday Night Fights stands out as a truly unique type of performance art. Combining the first show since the start of the pandemic with the 50th show overall ensures that this Friday’s edition will be a true extravaganza.