Friday Night Fights: More than just boxing

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Thousands of people will head to St Charles Avenue and Euterpe Street soon to take part in a phenomenon that's part sport, part three-ring circus.

It's an event that's launching careers and helping put New Orleans back on the competitive boxing track.

"It's all going down tonight on Friday Night Fights," organizer Mike Tata said.

They come from across the region to let loose. Friday Night Fights has moved from Freret Street to the Garden District, and the crowds keep coming.

"We got to push this show through. We got to keep moving," Tata said.

Boxing is the main event. In between bouts, a side show. Speakers blare "She's My Cherry Pie," dancers entertain a crowd, that's looking for something a little different.

"We're gonna go with a big-time female fight right away," Tata said.

Here they find it.

"There's nobody doing this type of show in the country. That's why Sports Illustrated did a story about this show. It combines entertainment with fights," said Tata, who runs a gym on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. "It's the combination that we just don't appeal to fight fans - we've got dancers, singers, burlesque, beauty pageant - we've had daredevils."

For $15 a head, the crowd watches more than 10 three-round matches, all sanctioned by USA Amateur Boxing. People like Dominique Valera punch and parry in search of a dream. Dominique and dozens of other local fighters hope to use Friday Night Fights as a launching pad for bigger and better things.

"I'm planning on being world champion. Until that point, I will keep going," Valera said.

Valera joins dancers and drag queens at the Friday Night Fight gym and in the ring, all training for bigger things.

"I love Friday nights, in your hometown, it's a confidence builder," Valera said.

He's watched closely by his trainer, Henry Wade. Wade trained dozens of fighters from New Orleans to Los Angeles.

"It's coming back. We had eight fighters go to the Olympic trials, so New Orleans is back," Wade said.

Sean Hemphill is just back from the trials.  He's the son of a kickboxing champion and is considered an up-and-comer.

"I love boxing. It teaches me discipline and learn how to be a man," Hemphill said.

For these fighters, it's always about the next step, and they've got to take a lot of punches along the way. Hemphill lost a split decision at the trials.

"I will handle the setback, I will go back to the gym and work a lot harder," he said.

Valera, lost last month to Justin Fisher, a Marine sergeant who's considered the New Orleans heavyweight champion.

"It was great, I had a lot of Marines come out there and support it, was a good time," Fisher said.

There are also female boxers trying to make it big. Some will go pro, others may fizzle right here. Both the fighters and the entertainers are all  trying to make the big time.

"I think it will get bigger by word of mouth," said female impersonator Britney Delorean.

"Any opportunity to get in front of someone, why not?" said Skyy Taylor.

The boxers dream big.

"Friday Night Fights gives us a stage, and hopefully opens the doors down the line," said Hemphill.

The promoter hopes for bigger crowds.

"This is the only place in the U.S. where you can do a boxing event that's BYOB," Tata said.

And the next edition of Friday Night Fights could be the biggest yet. Fight organizer Mike Tata is planning on letting the military in free for the next Friday night event to be held on Jan. 22. He's also working on a reality show based on the fighters and entertainers featured at the show.

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