Philanthropy at the end of a fist.
Grad students beyond thunderdome.
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May|June 09 contents
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BY TREY POPP | Before he stood in a ring edged by 1,200 frenzied spectators, boxing gloves slicked with sweat, white trunks speckled with the blood of his charging opponent, Donal McElwee worried that his manager would fail to deliver the dwarfs.

It was going to be the Wharton welterweight’s only bout of the year. All his friends would be there. He didn’t care if it cost a thousand bucks. The Irish native was dead set on having leprechauns in his entourage.

“It’s a matter of luck,” McElwee said in a dressing room, his brogue heavier than a sock full of stones, as the opening bell of Philly Fight Night drew near. “You need the little people in your corner when you’re fighting. I feel 10 times more confident with them than without them.”

Already, the belly of North Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon boxing hall was quaking with noise. The 900 advance tickets allotted to Wharton had sold out in 20 hours, at $35 and $50 a pop. Now Penn Law students were streaming through the security pat-downs to support their own contingent of pugilists. There were six bouts on tonight’s card. Ten men and two women were about to climb past an EMT and a fight doctor to risk more than their pride in three rounds of combat.

The gate take, plus a handful of corporate sponsorships, would amount to a $55,000 donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia. At the moment, however, McElwee’s entourage seemed to be the subject on everyone’s lips.

“I heard he’s hiring midgets as leprechauns,” said Wharton first-year Dana Scardigli, all but spilling out of the minimal attire required of an official ring girl. “I don’t know how I feel about that.” Then she disappeared into the giggling commotion of the ring girls’ ready room, where someone cried out, “More rouge!”

Across the way, grad students wearing sweatpants and sneakers tried to whittle away such distractions.

James “Playboy” Williams plucked out a pair of iPod earbuds to share his strategy for the third fight. “Knock his nose in, then his eye sockets, then his cheekbones,” the student of entrepreneurial management declared. “All in round one.” Perhaps confidence would get him further than his 0-1 lifetime record. “I’ve boxed once, in Thailand,” Williams confessed. “I was just on holiday there and wanted to fight. So I got myself into a fight in Chaweng Stadium. I lost.” But this time he had trained. And there was no question that his head was in the game. It bore the long spike of a freshly shaved mohawk, rendered “by popular request—of three people.”

Third-year law student Bill “The Big Show” Stone looked up from his wrist tape to consider whether he had ever done anything this crazy—or done anything at all, for that matter, in front of 1,200 people screaming their throats out. “If I have, I was a lot better at what I was doing than what I’m doing tonight,” he said. “I’m just going to try to conserve my energy, make it to the end of the fight, and try to land some haymakers if I get the chance.”

Elena “The Russian Bombshell” Aidova, a second-year law student, allowed that her opponent was “a nice girl.”

“But that’s all out when we get into the ring,” she quickly added, for there is no boxing without bluster. “I’m going to go for the head, go for the knockout, and walk out seeing her on the floor.”

Ultimate Fundraising Championship By Trey Popp
Photography by Candace diCarlo

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©2009 The Pennsylvania Gazette


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Last modified 4/30/09