Despite early appearances to the contrary, UCSB’s Fight Night is not down for the count. Tomorrow evening, scores of students will likely fill the Thunderdome and cheer on boxers duking it out in the ring. Over the past 16 years, Fight Night has grown into one of the university’s most popular events. However, glistening frat guys wailing on each other isn’t the only draw; this pugilistic party happens to be a fundraiser benefiting the Primo Boxing Club, a free after-school program that keeps about 60 kids and teenagers off the streets and channeling their youthful energies into the sweet science.
Jean Pommier – who owns Primo Boxing with her husband, Joe – said that though she has been overseeing the program since 1993, she has been anticipating this year’s Fight Night with particular enthusiasm. In short, longtime Fight Night sponsor Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity – known more commonly to members of Greek society as “Pike” – was rendered unable to participate when the university placed the organization on indefinite suspension earlier this year for “violating risk management policy,” an umbrella term the UCSB Greek Affairs board uses to cover misconduct ranging from alcohol-related misdeeds to hazing to basic safety code infractions. (Some off-the-record sources indicated that the crimes that finally warranted the suspension involved physical altercations with other members of other fraternities, oddly enough.) Pommier explains that the news was troubling. “I called the university and asked them, ‘Couldn’t you figure something else out? Why have philanthropy suffer?'” she said.
Fight Night generates more income for Primo Boxing and its affiliated non-profit, Say Yes To Kids, than any other event. Last year alone, ticket sales totaled nearly $10,000 – more than a quarter of the boxing program’s budget, by Pommier’s estimates. This, coupled with Pommier’s struggles with cancer, seemed to signal a bad year for Primo Boxing, which Pommier proudly touts as serving the needs of 75 children and teens who could not otherwise afford membership in an after-school athletic program of this type. However, with each passing year, Primo Boxing’s budget gets a bit tighter. Rent alone has increased from $695 per month when the Pommiers first moved into their location at 701 E. Haley St. to the current $1,800 per month.
JP Primeau, vice president of the Inter Fraternity Council (IFC), stepped in and, after picking up a $19,625 grant from the UCSB Associated Students Finance Board, began making plans to reorganize Fight Night under the watch of the entire IFC. Primeau noted that one major change from previous Fight Nights would be the elimination of the scantily clad and often gyrating young women who would grace the ring to the excitement of a beer- and testosterone-addled crowd. “In the past, it’s always been popular to have ring girls, but this year we’ve contacted the UCSB dance team instead,” Primeau said. Pommier said she was pleased with this change. “Some of those girls got a little carried away,” she said.
With the backing of the university grant, Pommier claimed this year’s event could be the most profitable yet and could allow Primo Boxing to help out its clients even more. The center, already open six nights a week, functions not just as a boxing school but, in Pommier’s words, a family. “Other than boxing, it’s what the kids need: what they want to do and what they want to talk about. They do homework together here,” Pommier said. “A few kids who were in gangs but now lead very good lives.” Primeau agreed that UCSB took the right step by supporting Fight Night, noting “With all the problems going on [with] the kids in the city, we can’t afford to lose any kind of after-school program.”
Pending the resolution of their alleged violation, Pike may be able to take a prominent role in a future Fight Night. Pommier said she hopes they do, noting that working with the fraternity for so many years has been “on the whole a rewarding experience.”
Fight Night – tickets to which can be purchased at UCSB for $10 general admission, $15 ringside – will this year feature profession boxers Fernando Vargas, Primo alum Francisco Santana and Santa Maria native Tony Ojeda as judges.