Why Tokyo's business execs are fighting in the ring

By Ryotaro Nakamaru, Kyodo

Posted at Jun 08 2014 01:08 PM | Updated as of Jun 08 2014 09:08 PM

TOKYO - What would you do for a great cause? Would you go through three months of grueling boxing training while juggling your day job and get in the ring in front of hundreds of your friends and coworkers?

That's what 16 amateur fighters did for "Executive Fight Night," a semiannual Vegas-style boxing event designed to be an opportunity for business executives in Tokyo to let off some steam and raise funds for charity at the same time.

Participants went through 12 intense weeks with professional trainers to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the big night. According to the event organizers, the fighters were chosen based on skill level, weight and availability from around 40 people who tried out.

Adding to the pro boxing-style pageantry of the event, the fighters adopted nicknames in the style of seasoned pugilists.

"I felt the opportunity to get fit, to challenge myself to do something I'd never done before -- boxing -- to contribute to my community...It was a no brainer," said 42-year-old David "Big Bad" Booker from the United States, executive director at financial consultancy Options Group Japan.

Training sessions were held either in the early morning or at night to accommodate the participants' busy work schedules, with many also doing additional training.

"Waking up at 5:30 (a.m.) twice a week, not drinking, dieting...I made a pretty drastic change in my body chemistry," Booker said. "I lost 10 kilograms without really trying."

Inspired by similar gala events in other Asian cities such as Singapore, Executive Fight Night was started in 2012 by Ginja Ninja Promotions, a group of expatriate workers in Japan.

As cofounder Eddie Nixon, who is also Adidas Japan K.K. vice president of group retail, put it, "We wanted to bring a spectacular event to Tokyo and we wanted to raise money and give back to Japan-based charities."

The fourth and latest fight night was held on May 23 in the Grand Hyatt Ballroom in Tokyo's Roppongi district, where spectators wined and dined as their friends and coworkers fought it out in the ring.

Adam "The Landlord" German, a 33-year-old Canadian general manager at Real Estate Japan K.K., said he found out about EFN two years ago from a friend. This was his second time in the ring after fighting in EFN2. "I liked what it was about: taking guys out of the bar and into the gym, raising money for charity."

He said his wife and two daughters were not exactly thrilled when he told them he would be participating in EFN2. "They thought I was crazy. But I wanted to show the kids this is mind over matter, you just set your mind to it and you'll do anything you want."

Elizabeth "Hot Hands" Taylor from England, a former Virgin Atlantic Airways in-flight service manager and a fighter in the only women's match of the night, said the eldest of her three sons told her, "'Mummy, girls don't do boxing!' but actually, after a while, they loved it."

Of course, EFN is not just about relieving stress and achieving physical fitness. The charity aspect is a big draw for many of the fighters and spectators.

Over 6 million yen in proceeds from the gala event will go to Shine On! Kids, an organization devoted to bettering the lives of children in Japan battling cancer.

The charity group's facility dog program sends teams of nurses and specially trained dogs to children's cancer wards to provide emotional support to the patients and their families.

Shine On! Kids marketing manager Joy Fajardo says EFN and the nonprofit organization are a perfect fit. And she should know as Fajardo fought in and won the first match of the inaugural EFN in November 2012. "The message of Shine On! Kids is definitely about the fight," she said.

While there are numerous organizations committed to finding a cure for cancer, Shine On! Kids focuses "on the individuals and the stories that are taking place right now and the lives that are being affected," she said.

EFN provides crucial funds to charities like Shine On! Kids, which is funded solely by donations. EFN has in the past also worked with the Run For The Cure Foundation, a breast cancer charity, and Refugees International Japan.

For last month's EFN4, fighters paired up with children battling cancer, getting further motivation to give their best in the ring.

"It's a great cause, it's a great event," said 28-year-old Filip "The Boy" Pusnik from Wales, a financial coordinator at financial consultancy the deVere Group. "I hope I did my little guy proud today."

The next Executive Fight Night (EFN5) will be held on Nov. 25. Contact Ginja Ninja Promotions at [email protected] for details.