Raising money for a good cause? Check.
Providing amateur athletes with a taste of what it feels like to perform at the professional level? Yup.
Giving fans a chance to spend a night out watching people punch each other in the face? You bet.
Not everyone will have their arms raised at the United Boxing Club’s Melee Gala at the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre this week, but the event seems to check all the boxes and is a win-win for everybody involved.
The seventh annual gala, which is tabbed as "Manitoba’s Premier Boxing Gala Event," will feature Team Canada versus Team Philippines. The top amateurs from both countries will square off tonight in Olympic-style boxing, and if possible, the six matchups will have rematches on Sunday. Along with experienced amateur boxers, the event will also showcase first-time fighters with the corporate challenge. Four local companies — Bison Transport, Ampjack Industries Ltd., Taylor McCaffrey and U LEARNT — will have employees step into the square-circle after going through three months of training at the United Boxing Club. The event is a fundraiser for Variety the Children’s Charity and the companies and their brave volunteers have already raised $25,000.
As for the two national teams, who boast fighters from across their respective countries, the Melee Gala gives them a chance to square off against new competition at an impressive venue with a great atmosphere. Winnipegger Ryan Savage, Boxing Canada’s vice-president and United Boxing Club’s president, was on the national team for seven years before retiring in 2003. He started the event seven years ago as a way to give back to the sport, highlight amateur boxing and raise money for important causes.
"For amateur boxers, you don’t get that sort of high profile, that experience, that feeling of walking into a room with a pumped-up crowd and lights. Ordinarily, it’s in a community centre with hardly anybody watching," said Savage, a lawyer at Taylor McCaffrey LLP.
"To bring that kind of stage to amateur boxing was a really important part of what I wanted to do. But what makes, I think, our event unique is the combination between the corporate challenge and the international boxing. There’s nothing like that, for sure in Manitoba, where people will compete in their very first boxing fight on the same stage as some of the best boxers on the planet."
Headlining the event is 19-year-old Spencer Wilcox of Hamilton and Charly Suarez, a 31-year-old who represented the Philippines at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Wilcox is a 2019 Canadian champion and won gold at this year’s Algarve Portimao Box Cup.
"I’m very excited, because you don’t see it very often where amateurs are promoted this much and put on with this much thought and care put into it," said Wilcox, who started boxing when he was four years old as his dad, Bob, owns Steeltown Boxing Club in Hamilton.
"Most amateur shows are just kind of to get experience and get the fights done with. A lot of the shows are small club shows. The Melee Gala seems like it’s very well organized, very well run and it has that professional style to it."
The gala has brought in other countries to face Canada before, as in past years the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico have come to town. But with Winnipeg having such a large Filipino community, the chance to bring in their national team was too good of an opportunity to ignore. Team Philippines coach Nolito Velasco said it was a long journey to get here, but his team feels right at home.
"All the Filipino people here are very, very excited," said Velasco, who has coached some of the country’s top fighters at five different Olympic Games. "Every time we have training, they come and watch our training. And they’ve called me every day here at our hotel to ask us if we need anything. I’m very happy. We feel very welcome here in Winnipeg."
With the majority of the boxers in their early 20s, it’s an opportunity for local fans to watch fighters before they become big names in the sport. For Wilcox, he hopes this week in Winnipeg will be another step to representing Canada at an even bigger stage one day.
"I don’t have a desire to turn pro right now. I’ve had offers, big offers," Wilcox said.
"To me, I’ve got one goal in this sport. A lot of people just care about qualifying for the Olympics, but that’s not my goal, that’s a minimum. I want to win the Olympics or medal at the Olympics."
Tickets for the Melee Gala are available at eventbrite.ca.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.