MAGNIFICENT MILE — Getting punched in the face feels like, well, getting punched in the face.
It hurts. A lot. I do not recommend it.
But a growing number of white-collar gentlemen with graying hair — guys lucky enough to have jobs that never require getting belted in the kisser — willingly climb into boxing rings around the city to risk getting their faces pounded in.
Now, watching one of these guys get punched in the nose is a different story.
It doesn’t hurt. It’s fun to watch.
Watching businessmen take punches has become so popular that Esquire Network even has a reality show, “White Collar Brawlers,” that features balding corporate types and former frat brothers squaring off in the ring to prove one thing or another about their toughness.
So when the folks at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls invited me to the 23rd Annual Ringside fundraiser to watch traders, bankers and consultants beat each other up to raise charity cash, I wasn’t going to miss it.
For 23 years, boxing exhibitions have been the centerpiece of Mercy Home’s annual fundraiser — a collaboration between the charity and Chicago’s business community — that helps pay for programs that help give more than 600 kids a safe place to live, heal and overcome extremely challenging childhoods.
Over the years, Ringside evolved into the black–tie gala it is today — a night of silent auctions, fine dining, dancing, casino-style gambling and luxury raffles at the Chicago Marriott on Michigan Avenue that attracts some of Chicago’s most prominent business leaders.
“It’s glamorous, and black tie. But when the fighters get to know the stories of the kids at Mercy Home, I think that motivates them in a big way. And the boxers know that. … They’re the reason why it’s been such a success,” Mercy Home spokesman Mark Schmeltzer said.
“Knowing that they’re helping a place that gives many seriously disadvantaged and troubled kids a safe place to live and skills to be successful in the future makes them fight that much harder.”
And Saturday night’s fight card featured a group of boxers who “definitely need an introduction,” as the announcer put it, offering up their faces as punching bags for a good cause.
They even gave themselves silly nicknames: Ryan “Honey Badger” Cotter of Conlon Real Estate, “Marvelous” Marty Engle of the consulting firm CAPCO and Rosenthal Collins broker Brian “The Count of Montefisto” Leonard, among them.
One fighter — the only union man on the fight card — particularly caught my attention, Chicago Teachers Union field rep Joey McDermott, a tough talker who also claims to be a tough guy.
"I don't do yoga to start my morning,” McDermott once told me. "I box.”
Saturday night, McDermott appeared ready to dish out a beating when he climbed into the ring to battle Jake “Dyn-O-Mite” Walker of banking giant ABN AMRO.
I asked McDermott’s pal, CTU staff coordinator Jackson Potter, if he thought the stocky representative of corporate American would symbolically squash the workingman during the three one-minutes rounds.
“Not at all. Joey bleeds CTU red. He’s going to come out on top,” Potter said. “I guarantee it.”
At ringside, McDermott’s long-time pals David Kaplan and Israel Martin weren’t so sure some of that CTU blood wouldn’t spill in the ring.
“Joey does overestimate his talent. That’s all I’m going to say,” Kaplan said. “With wearing headgear I’m not saying he won’t lose blood, but it’s less likely.”
Shortly after the first bell, “Dyn-O-Mite” Walker exploded with a flurry of punches that sent McDermott — wearing red boxing trunks and a CTU red tank top — immediately shuffling backward until his back hit the ropes.
By Round 2, a man in a very expensive suit surrounded by ladies in sparkly party dresses at ringside looked up from his cocktail just long enough to see the action and state the obvious about McDermott’s performance, “Man, the guy in the red is getting killed.”
To be fair, McDermott landed a few good shots, too. But in the end it wasn’t enough. He left the ring literally a beaten man, his face flushed from getting punched. He only succeeded in not bleeding CTU red.
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Like [bleep],” he said as he walked through the crowd hanging his head in disappointment.
Sunday afternoon, McDermott felt battered and disappointed but not defeated.
“That’s life. You get hit and you respond,” he said. “I didn’t go down. And it’s for charity, right?”
In the end, the punches that McDermott and the others took to the face did a lot of good.
Mercy Home’s “Ringside” fight night brought in nearly $1 million to help troubled kids who know what it's like to grow up fighting battles that no one would ever choose for them.
Just before dinner on Saturday the Rev. Scott Donahue, president of Mercy Home, summed up the night as succinctly as he could.
“I have two words,” he said from the center of the ring. “Thank you.”
I couldn’t agree more.
It was wonderful to watch McDermott get punched in the face for such a good cause.
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