Boxing: Wall Street style
Bankers channel their competitive nature into the ring for a good cause.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- The crowd of bankers and consultants from Lord Abbett wanted blood and they got it.
The guys in suits and gals in little black dresses chanted, screamed themselves hoarse, and crushed the balcony railing as their 5'7", 166-pound coworker Khuong "The Professional" Chau's fist connected with the face of the 5'10", 184-pound "Cadillac" Matt Preskenis. Chau, a tattooed private wealth consultant, scored a victory for his firm and for a non-profit that supports educational opportunities for inner-city teens.
Welcome to the world of boxing Wall Street style, where the masters of the universe duke it out for a good cause rather than for their own accounts.
Thursday night's black tie charity championship was the brainchild of Doubledown Media, the publisher of Trader Monthly magazine. Doubledown has sponsored financial boxing matches in the past and produced the New York event. New York City-based real estate development outfit Extell was the title sponsor.*
Private boxes sold for $13,500. Ringside seats sold for as much as $800 a person, and Extell estimates that well over $100,000 was raised in ticket sales.
More money was donated during live and silent auctions, and the proceeds went to the NYMEX Charitable Foundation, Tuesday's Children, the Valerie Fund, Prostate Cancer Foundation, Hedge Funds Care, and Say Yes to Education.
Not surprsingly, financiers were eager to see their brethren in the ring. The 800 guests that packed New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom easily drew comparisons between boxing and banking, even though they had never seen fisticuffs at the office. "You need to use any competitive advantage, legally of course, to outsmart and outwork your opponent," says Steve "The Sandman" Colombo, who works in derivatives at Lehman Brothers (Charts, Fortune 500).
Adds Louie "El Guapo" Sobong, an equity analyst at Rockefeller & Co., "Both boxing and banking take poise, discipline, courage under fire and the ability to take shots, whether they be tough questions or punches."
Like any good fight night, the evening was punctuated with jabs, blows, and wild punches. Imperia Vodka's models circled the ring between rounds. The crowd roared between bites of beef tenderloin and shots.
And former champs like Lennox Lewis, Emile Griffith, Lou Duva, and Iran "The Blade Barkley" were among the celebrity judges.
Between the eight different fights, NYMEX veteran Eric Bolling and inimitable pugilism pundit Bert Sugar emceed the event. Sugar, the editor of three boxing magazines and author or co-author of more than 80 books on the sport, strolled the ring in his signature fedora. In the movie of his life, Sugar would be played by Jack Klugman.
If fate had not led him to boxing, he may well have managed an off-track betting parlor. He chewed up the scenery as he gnawed the end of his unlit cigar, and punctuated the night with one-liners like "In that way that Wall Street does, let's get ready to ring the bell."
That the 16 contestants were forced to earn their amateur boxing cards lent an air of authenticity to the proceedings. Similar white-collar fights take place in Chicago (Merc v. CBOT) and London (private equity v. hedge funds), but unsanctioned fighting is illegal in New York, explains Rachel Pine, a senior vice president for branding and partnerships at Doubledown. So John Snow, owner of Trinity Boxing Club in Manhattan, trained the fighters and USA Boxing certified them.
"Whether or not they had experience they all had to work hard," says Snow. "It takes skill and discipline to override the instinct to put your head down and swing wildly. Some guys thought they were in good shape until they hit that bag for three minutes and found that it wasn't easy."
The financial elite acclimated quickly to the Trinity world. "When you're drenched in sweat and have your hands up, no one cares what you do for a living," Snow adds. "The regular members pulled behind them."
While Sugar says Khuong Chau was the one fighter who "showed [him] anything," the top honors were not bestowed upon the hero from Lord Abbett. "Dangerous" Jay Neu, an equity trader at T3 Capital, and Howard "The Destroyer" Crockett, a sales trainer at Oppenheimer, won fight of the night. Josh "The Matrix" Weintraub, a mortgage bond trader and senior managing director at Bear Stearns (Charts, Fortune 500), was voted best boxer.
"If I'd known somebody was gonna take the other side of the bet I would have put money on Josh," said Jason Mandinach, who works with Weintraub.
Weintraub, who boxed as an undergrad at Lehigh University, said his young daughters sitting ringside were his secret weapons. "Look at those girls. You can't lose in front of them," a Bear colleague explained. "The Matrix" also drummed up one of the largest groups of supporters. An estimated 140 coworkers and admirers came to see him beat the tar out of the sacrificial lamb from Goldman Sachs (Charts, Fortune 500), Shane "Second Coming" Kinahan.
The Street's premiere investment banks have taken a series of body blows since the credit crunch began this summer. The possible exception has been Goldman Sachs, which managed to profit on the mortgage security woes that have dogged its competitors. Not surprisingly, when Weintraub and Kinahan took the ring, the crowd was on its feet. The faintest hint of hooliganism touched the air. But not for long. In the first round Weintraub scored the only knock out of the night. And then he hugged his opponent.
"They will channel the competitive nature of Wall Street into the ring," Sugar told the crowd. "Some of them will be bullish. Some of them will be bearish. But none of them will be sheepish."
**Due to incorrect information provided by an Extell executive, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the idea for the match originated with Extell. CNNMoney.com regrets the error.