You know what the first rule of Fight Night is, but fuggit: after attending one of the underground boxing parties known as FNT, we have to say it’s one of the wildest things happening in New York right now. And with a documentary in the works, the secret may be out soon.
The most recent installment happened a couple of Saturdays ago, at a onetime factory building in East Williamsburg. As soon as the cab rolled up to the desolate block, the thump of hip-hop led me to the unmarked door where a bouncer hustled me in and took $40.
The cover was steep, but if you were drinking like one of the longhairs in leather biker jackets and beanies that crowded around the boxing ring, it ended up being “almost just about barely worth it,” as a friend had assured me over text. At a makeshift table in the back corner, comely bartenders were pouring free booze from shatterproof jugs.
By the time I arrived, shortly after 1 a.m., the concrete floor was carpeted with a sticky film of gin and the Port-A-Potties looked like victims of the Toxic Avenger.
In the middle of the room was a boxing ring where Tylon the Hip-Hop Acrobat did some trippy contortions to the tune of Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up.” Freshly painted murals by Pixote served as the backdrop.
I had arrived just in time to catch the last fight of the night. As fans chanted “Charlie! Charlie!”, model and photographer “Rockstar Charlie” Himmelstein — a fixture at these matches ever since they were being thrown in Chinatown — took the ring to face a competitor from Norfolk, Virginia.
The rounds lasted just a minute each – enough time for Charlie to clock his stockier but slower competition in the head a couple of times.
“Boring!” someone mock heckled.
“Yo Charlie, you know you can knock him out, right?” another backseat boxer called out.
Because the fisticuffs in the ring clearly weren’t enough, a scuffle broke out in the crowd. Bouncers quickly intervened and soon after, the party was over.
Today, I spoke to one of the founders of the smokers, Bekim Trenova. (“Smokers” doesn’t just describe the party’s vape-happy attendees – it’s also the term for the unsanctioned boxing matches that have long operated in the shadows of NYC nightlife. Trenova said they existed in a legal “grey area.”)
After starting FNT in 2009, Trenova and his crew now have over a dozen matches under their proverbial belts. But he said the most recent party – “the first real production with lights and sound we’ve done in New York” – was a step up to the next level.
“For the past five years I’ve been building a backstory that you can’t deny,” he said. During the past three and a half years, he says, Damien Drake of Soho production company East + Pleasant has been filming the underground parties for a documentary that’s angling for the festival circuit.
The doc, which is being produced by Trenova and is separate from another one that intended to tell the story of Rockstar Charlie, was recently picked up by “a big editing house” in New York and a deal with a film and tv agency is on deck, he says.
Trenova insisted on saving the details of FNT’s genesis for the film, but he did reveal that he moved to the East Village in 2003 (he now lives in East Williamsburg) to pursue a modeling career (he’s been represented by Ford and Re:Quest), learned the ins and outs of show production while touring with Bassnectar, and got into event production.
“I know how to throw parties and bring people together, I know how to entertain,” he said.
On his guest list the other night was Martha Hunt of Victoria’s Secret (she wasn’t the only model there) and Alexander Wang, who donated a pair of boxing gloves he recently designed for H&M.
Indeed, FNT took its show on the road this year with a stint at SXSW, and it’s gearing up for a national tour that will hopefully lead to Taiwan and South Korea, Trenova revealed.
But will the boxing pass muster outside of Brooklyn’s warehouse party scene?
“They’re all real boxing matches,” says Trenova, who serves as ring announcer. “I’m not saying they’re all pro or whatever. With what we’ve shot during the past three and a half years and where we’re going, that’s all going to start turning up.” But already, he says, past contestants have won legit muay Thai and boxing tournaments.
That said, Trenova isn’t much of a boxing or sports fanatic. “I think that’s what helps it. We’re pioneering something new to the entertainment world that combines performance art, boxing, sport, music,” he said, noting that Mobb Deep and A$AP Ferg have performed at past events and the bouts have even spawned a zine. “It’s literally anything.”
Trenova wouldn’t say when the next party is (he avoids throwing them consistently, lest they garner too much attention from authorities) but if you want in, it wouldn’t hurt to follow FNT on Instagram.