Hand-to-hand combat has enthralled the masses since the beginning of time, but lately, it's been taking New Orleans by storm.
The Central City neighborhood is home to one of the Crescent City's most overlooked athletic spectacles: Friday Night Fights. Founded by Mike Tata nearly 13 years ago, Friday Night Fights is equal parts boxing and sideshow. "You don't even have to like fights to have a good time at Friday Night Fights," Tata says of his quarterly boxing production, which intersperses entertainers between fights.
From day one, the Friday Night Fights concept has always included a mixture of the best area boxers and performers. In between bouts of violence, performers of all backgrounds—including singers, dancers, rappers, drag queens, and dare devils—take center stage and entertain the masses. With music, performances, and "hot, sexy people," Tata promises a good time to all his attendees.
Tata, who's a sucker for the "sexy dancing girls," says the biggest evolution since the beginning of Friday Night Fights is the influx of talent. "The talent pool that I have to choose from now is five times as big as it used to be," Tata says. "I have better quality fighters in the show, better quality entertainers—just because the stage has become so big that everyone wants to be on that stage."
Friday Night Fights is a springboard for fighters and entertainers, a big stage with bright lights, that separates the contenders from the pretenders. "If you can kill it at Friday Night Fights, you can move on to bigger and better things," he says.
Tata is a modern amalgam of the WWE's Vince McMahon and legendary circus promoter P.T. Barnum, and has taken the Big Easy boxing scene to new heights. The former Marine has pioneered a vigilante form of athletic entertainment, one forged in the streets of New Orleans.
As a boy, Tata, now 55, fell in love with boxing while watching ABC's Wide World of Sports, idolizing Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. Though he cannot pinpoint the exact reason he was drawn to boxing as a young man, Tata knows it has always been one of his loves. "I was just attracted to it, just like I'm attracted to the ladies," Tata says.
Once enlisted in the Marines, he decided to lace up the gloves himself, and adopted boxing as a hobby. And a hobby, it would remain. "I've always been better at getting other people to fight each other," Tata says.
After the military, Tata lived in Los Angeles, then New York, honing his boxing promotion skills, before moving down to New Orleans. "I always heard things about New Orleans, how it was a very unique city, unlike any city in the country," Tata says. "It was also affordable."
After arriving in New Orleans in 2003, Tata opened his first Louisiana boxing gym in 2005, on Freret Street. When Hurricane Katrina devastated Freret Street with flooding, Tata's gym was the first business to reopen on the street post-Katrina. When rent prices forced Tata to switch locations, he opened the Friday Night Fights Gym in Central City. Tata's resiliency post-Katrina helped preserve boxing in the Crescent City. For five years after Katrina, Friday Night Fights was the only boxing gym in New Orleans.
Friday Night Fights will celebrate its 13th anniversary in January and has put on more live boxing shows than every other area boxing gym combined. The most recent fight in July attracted over 1,500 attendees, and Tata aims to break the 2,000 mark on November 10 at his 43rd show, dubbed the "Veterans Day Show."
Boxing is growing in the Big Easy, and that is a testament to Tata's dedication and passion for the sport and spectacle. "All the guys opening up gyms now, they're all kids of mine," Tata says. "They all started on Freret Street."
Visit Friday Night Fights' Facebook for Upcoming Shows
Friday Night Fights Location: 1632 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
Call 504-522-2702 for tickets.
Free admission for all veterans and for all ladies from Tulane and Loyola (with ID).