Friday Night Fights Under the Friday Night Lights

By Milo Kashey

Friday Night Fights are like nothing you’ve ever seen. The huge courtyard outside the gym fills with over 2,000 people cheering on their local heroes in the red-floored boxing ring illuminated by massive floodlights. Fighters sporting red and blue headgear trade pummeling blows as they battle for glory. It’s a spectacle. Between rounds, scantily-clad ring girls strut through the ring with brightly colored signs displaying the round number. That doesn’t even compare to the debauchery in between fights, which is how gym owner Mike Tata gave his show a uniquely New Orleans-esque twist. In between every fight, a circus performer of some sort makes an appearance to keep the crowd on their toes. Sword-swallowers, fire breathers, incredible acrobats, and many others perform wonders that almost seem like madness.

The devastation of Katrina forced the majority of New Orleans’ boxing gyms to close, seemingly for good. That is, until Tata revived the boxing scene by opening the Friday Night Fights Gym and launching the accompanying show that takes place every four months on electric Friday nights. The gym welcomes fighters from all over New Orleans including college students, exotic dancers, former NOPD officers, and big names like former NFL quarterback Joe Webb. Tulane freshman phenom, Silas Gillett, says he joined because “There aren’t a lot of good amateur shows here, especially not affordable ones.” Mike Tata has essentially monopolized the amateur boxing world in New Orleans through the prowess of his trainers and the boisterous spectacle he puts on three times a year.

The performers, cheap beer, ring girls, and other eccentricities are all a part of the entertainment but don’t think for a second that the boxing talent isn’t world-class. Fighters from all over the South travel to New Orleans to battle it out. World Amateur Title fights are a common occurrence, which often lead to professional careers. Gillett said that at the last show, “The main card was two guys each in their last amateur fight before they turned pro.” As a member of the gym, he gets to train with them and ask their advice on how to have a successful career. Gillett trains with “Coach Spider, who was a 7-time worldwide kickboxing champ.” Professional mentorship is a huge benefit to young inexperienced fighters like Silas Gillett.

Gillett draws huge crowds for such a young fighter. Originally from Boulder, Colorado, the Sociology major sells his paintings and drawings when he isn’t hammering opponents in the ring. He loves boxing at Friday Night Fights because it calms his mind and helps him move into a state of flow. Don’t be fooled though––his 4-3 record shows great promise for a freshman. In the ring he moves with grace and power, his bleached blonde leopard-print hair spiking above his headgear. Gillett also draws huge crowds of Tulane students; he said “Tulane ladies get in free” when he fights.

Always the marketer, Tata made Friday Night Fight shows easily affordable so people of all income levels can be entertained. Entry tickets are $20 while ringside VIP tickets are $100. Community is important to Tata because he wants New Orleans residents to be proud of their local boxers, especially those fighting against representatives from Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and other nearby states. Making tickets affordable seems to be working for him. Gillett’s last fight was “…crazy because [the gym] made a real show out of it. It was super fun and high energy with everyone stuffed into this little space.” Residents from all over the city whoop and holler for their neighborhood heroes, and luckily things never get ugly. NOPD officers run security and keep the peace, but they never really need to do much. For the most part, people are there to enjoy the show. Gillett says “It’s a really good social community event. You don’t really see those different sections of New Orleans come together that often. People from all around the South can get together, have fun, meet new people, and enjoy some boxing.”

The next show is on May 26th at 1632 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. It promises to be a spectacle full of pounding gloves, daring acrobats, fearless athletes, and rowdy crowds.


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