“This is not your daddy’s charity event,” Legends Fight Night founder Neal Wilkinson said at the start of last Thursday’s boxing charity event at the Soldier Field United Club. “We’ve worked very hard to make this an event you’ll want to come back to.”
If the cheering of the audience was any indication, the crowd would be more than willing to make repeat appearances at the annual event. Although Legends Fight Night has been around for years, 2011 was the first year where tickets were available to the public. Ticket options ranged from a $250 donation for entrance to the event to a $15,000 donation which included seating for ten, bottle service, and a dedicated hostess. The event included musical entertainment, appetizers, drinks, boxing, an auction, and the chance to rub elbows with well-known sports figures like Gale Sayers and Micky Ward, all in the name of a good cause.
Legends Fight Night started in 2003 and has continued to grow in popularity, raising over $1.6 million dollars for charities such as the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation and The Butkus Foundation. This year, Wilkinson and the Board of Directors launched the OpenField Foundation (O.F.F.) in an effort to extend the charitable reach of Fight Night and other fundraising activities. The goal of the O.F.F. is to support small, new, and underserved charities that address the needs of individuals in one of the following areas: Sports/Wellness, Military Veterans, and Children. Fight Night has benefited a variety of charities since its inception and will continue to do so with the help of the OpenField Foundation. The proceeds of Legends Fight Night will go towards the broad efforts of OpenField Foundation as well as two “benefactor charities” each year. The 2011 benefactor charities for Fight Night were Walking with Anthony and the Semper Fi Fund (in memory of CJ Boyd). Representatives with personal connections to both charities gave moving speeches and showed videos detailing the importance of their causes.
Donations are also given every year to a charitable organization selected by the Legend Honoree. Each year, Legends Fight Night honors a “Legend” in the world of sports, the arts, business, or philanthropy. The 2011 Legend Honoree was “Irish” Micky Ward, the boxer whose life was recently depicted in the Oscar-nominated film The Fighter. In spite of Ward’s athletic accomplishments, Wilkinson pointed out that those accomplishments were not the main reason they selected him to be this year’s honoree. “We didn’t pick him for his athletic prowess,” Wilkinson said of Ward, “but for the kind of person he is.” Micky Ward started an organization called Team Micky Ward Charities, whose goal is to provide financial assistance to children and families in need to help improve their everyday quality of life.
After the speeches, the boxing main event started. The night’s sports entertainment consisted of five golden gloves-style boxing matches between 18-26 year old amateur boxers from the United States and Canada. The short rounds were punctuated by the cheers of the crowd, many of whom gathered near the ring to get the best possible view of the matches.
In between the matches, entertainment came in the form of live auctions to raise additional money for the charities. The live auctions included items from sports (a Masters green jacket with the signatures of 29 previous winners, a Super Bowl Hall of Fame trophy with 56 signatures, a package that included dinner with Mike Ditka and tickets to a Blackhawks game, and more) and music (guitars signed by Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, and Aerosmith). The silent auction items displayed even more variety, including pieces like an official White House humidor, George Washington’s signature, and a dollar bill signed by Al Capone. The big ticket item of the night, an item that Neal Wilkinson termed “the greatest piece of boxing memorabilia ever sold,” was the signed contract between Muhammad Ali (signed as Cassius Clay) and Joe Frazier for their famous match-up. The framed collage went for $17,500.
After the boxing ended, the night finished off with a performance by local Beatles cover band American English. Attendees listened to the familiar songs as they finished off their final drinks and then filtered out into the Chicago cold, warm with the knowledge that their night of fun would benefit those who needed it most.
If you want to donate to any of the charitable organizations affiliated with this year’s Fight Night event, click on the links below for more information: