Englebrecht remains in the game
Dozens of matted, 8×10 color photographs come close to filling an entire wall in the entry way to Roy Englebrecht’s Fountain Valley office. The photos chronicle six years of Fight Club OC, the fight promoter’s hybrid boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) show staged bimonthly in the Hangar at the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa: Bloodied boxers trading blows, MMA fighters contorted on the canvas, scantily clad ring-card girls, wide shots from inside the venue that capture a 40-foot wide video screen on the east side of the jam-packed Hangar and pictures of smiling fans, posing for group photos from their private VIP suites.
Englebrecht gets it. In fact, to label Englebrecht as merely a fight promoter doesn’t do him justice, because this 71-year-old entrepreneur is selling more than fights. Englebrecht is selling an entertainment experience and has been doing it successfully in Orange County for more than 30 consecutive years. “It’s the longest running club show in the history of the sport,” Englebrecht said. “Nobody has been going every single year for 31 years in Orange County.”
In November, Englebrecht was among 500 honorees named by the Orange County Business Journal in its inaugural OC500 publication, “a compendium of Orange County’s most influential,” wrote Richard Reisman, the Business Journal’s publisher. Englebrecht is among 50 business leaders in the Marketing/Entertainment category, alongside such notables as Angels’ owner Arte Moreno and retired Laker superstar Kobe Bryant. The upcoming Fight Club OC on Dec. 8 will wrap up Englebrecht’s sixth year at the 23,000 square-foot, 1,200-seat Hangar, where, for a $60 ticket, fans get to watch six to eight fights, and sit so close to the ring that they can hear the combatants grunt and the sound of leather connecting with chins. They can see the sweat and sometimes the blood dripping from a fighter’s face.
“What we do at Fight Club OC is exactly what they do at Staples Center or the Honda Center,” Englebrecht said. “They have suites. We have suites. They have a jumbotron. We have a jumbotron. We are just more intimate. Every seat is a great seat. Their parking is $25. Our parking is $8. Their tickets are $200. Our seats are $60.” For corporate types who entertain clients, Englebrecht offers VIP suites that seat 12, come with two ringside seats, a full bar, food and preferred parking for an all-inclusive price ranging from $7,500 to $12,500 for the season.
“It is not like taking someone to an Angels game or to a Lakers game,” said attorney Dan Callahan, owner of the Santa Ana law firm Callahan & Blaine and a VIP suite holder and Fight Club OC sponsor since Fight Club launched in the Hangar. “This is a very unique experience. When I bring a client there, they don’t know what to expect, but when it is over, they always want to come back.”
Before Fight Club OC, Englebrecht’s “Battle in the Ballroom” boxing and MMA shows were held in the ballroom of the Irvine Marriott from 1985 to 2010. Englebrecht made his bones in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a director of promotions at the Forum in Los Angeles, working under Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke and then Jerry Buss.
During his tenure, Englebrecht helped form the Laker Girls dance team and organized the Lakers’ 1980 championship parade. “I noticed that no matter how hard I worked, my paycheck still had the same amount of money,” Englebrecht recalls. So, it was time to make a go of it on his own. Englebrecht formed a business purchasing radio rights for college sports teams, broadcasting games and making money by selling advertising. In 1985, after securing the radio rights to broadcast UC Irvine basketball games, Englebrecht was on a sales call at the recently opened Irvine Marriott. The hotel manager mentioned something in passing about another Marriott property that was considering hosting a boxing show in its ballroom. Then, the thought struck him. “I began thinking in milliseconds,” Englebrecht said. He pitched the idea of holding boxing shows at the Irvine Marriott to contacts in the fight game and potential sponsors but garnered no interest. After numerous rejections, Englebrecht struck a deal with the distributor of Tecate Beer, offering to pour Tecate during the fights. “We did our first show Feb. 16, 1985 … turned away 300 people,” Englebrecht said. “There were 1,200 people there. We sold out every show for almost three straight years.”
Fast forward to 2007, when MMA became legal in California and fight nights were sprouting upEnglebrecht staged his first MMA show in a sold-out Marriott ballroom on a Sunday in 2007 and soon became the first local promoter to have boxing and MMA on the same fight card. At first, some of the long-standing season ticket holders didn’t even know what MMA was, he said. “We made the boxing fans into MMA fans,” he said. In 2009, Englebrecht started “SummerFist,” an amateur MMA event that takes place during the Orange County Fair and added an annual SummerFist show during the San Diego Fair.
Around 2010, Englebrecht learned about a new state-of-the-art venue planned for the OC Fair & Event Center called the Hangar, where he could add a giant video screen and VIP suites. With his son Drew in the role of V.P of Operations and Marketing, Nancy, Englebrecht’s wife of 40 years as treasurer, a boxing matchmaker, MMA matchmaker, ring announcer and production crew, Englebrecht Promotions is on a roll. Nearly 500 season tickets have been sold for the 2017 season and Englebrecht anticipates all 12 VIP suites being renewed as well. The six show dates are set for Feb. 16, April 6, June 1, Aug. 24, Oct. 12 and Dec. 7.
In October, Englebrecht made a deal with Bakersfield businessman Stan Ellis to hold six shows in 2017 as part of the new Bakersfield Fight Club. Events will be held in months they are not taking place at the Hangar. With only six events in a venue, every single one must deliver, Englebrecht said.
“You don’t get a second chance to get a good first impression,” he said. “I tell my staff we want to make a good first impression every single show.” Englebrecht is also aware that Orange County is rife with entertainment options and not everybody is a fight fan.