It’s a war of egos as Wall Street tough guys step into the ring at a Manhattan boxing event that pits stockbroker against stockbroker. In a business that’s all about putting your money where your mouth is, these big talkers have everything to lose.
The bell clangs and hundreds of stockbrokers begin to shout. They bang their meaty fists on tables. Neck veins bulge dramatically above their pastel striped shirts. Adrenaline—and testosterone—beat tribally through the room. Todd Kramer, a crude-oil energy trader, hoots and hollers. His face is pomegranate red. Justin Jennings, an analyst at JP Morgan, roars. Dan Dintino, a trader with Credit Suisse, his voice strained, screams, “Let’s go!” Just another over-the-top day on the trading floor? Not exactly. In fact, the closing bell rang hours ago. By 4 p.m.this June day, the New York Stock Exchange had fallen 224.36 points, closing at 8640.74. The New York Mercantile Exchange was down 1.57 points to 86.97. But it’s now 7:30, and some 500 bankers, traders and clients have reconvened for a sport even more primitive and aggressive than their day jobs. Here, in the basement of B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square, they’ve come to fight at an event called—what else?—Wall Street Boxing.
Pugilism and trading are perfect partners. To succeed at either, one must balance prudence and aggression, strategy and strength, risk and security. Both boxing and banking are male-dominated worlds where big money payouts mean big egos. The ring and the trading floor are high-risk zones where one mistake can cost you a career. End up on the wrong side of a trade—in blows or bonds—and you might end up flat on your back. Tonight’s contest, sponsored by Trader Monthly magazine and Trinity Boxing Club, forces bankers to back up all their big talk, albeit in the ring. The stakes, however, may be higher than simply a winning or losing record. These men will be competing in front of—and sometimes against—their managers and co-workers. Today’s opponent might be tomorrow’s boss. These men cannot afford to be seen as losers. On the other hand, perhaps they can’t afford to be winners either. According to one analyst/pugilist at Lehman Brothers, “It’s a tough political situation. You beat up someone who one day might employ you or you get beaten by someone who then can hold it over your head.”
In our current economy, where the oppressive storm cloud of the future hangs over an already gloomy present, the allure of hauling off and hitting someone is self-evident. No wonder more financial types, feeling the tight squeeze of the credit crunch, are turning to boxing. “It’s a stress-reliever,” says Craig Capurso, a fighter and trader. “Whether the market is up or down, it doesn’t affect your boxing at all.” Trader Monthly, which put on a similar boxing exhibition for bankers last November, is already planning another bout for late October at the Hammerstein Ballroom. But the appeal cuts across professional borders, too. On October 2, media and advertising professionals will square off at an event called Madison Avenue Boxing at B.B. King. The possibilities are endless in these times of rancor.
A few feet away John Snow, 41, the mild-mannered owner of Trinity Boxing Club—conveniently located blocks from Wall Street on Greenwich Street in Tribeca—surveys the scene. John is in charge of training the boxers. Often, he says, white-collar guys come down and “think they can just jump in the ring. But,” he adds with obvious amusement, “they don’t last the round.” Each of the 16 men here tonight has trained for a minimum of three months. It’s not long enough to become polished but it is enough time to learn how to throw a straight jab.
Despite demanding jobs, family obligations and a credit crunch, most of the fighters train four or five times a week. Tim “The Bull” Nersten, a baby-faced 30-year-old who works for the firm Liquidnet, says, “As soon as the trading bell hits at 4, I’m grabbing my bag and heading out the door to the gym.” Scott “The Belford Brawler” Bauer, 37, a lumbering 6'1", 205-pound vice president of portfolio trading at ITG, finds time to train from 6 to 8 a.m.
One story below Times Square’s hectic street level, bosses, friends and wives have paid up to $500 a ticket to watch the traders pummel one another. Backstage, in a spartan hallway, the mood is one of quiet intensity as the contenders steel themselves for battle. Andrew “Don’t Blink” Myerson, a 25-year-old analyst, sits in a chair, listening to hip-hop. His face is sealed into a scowl, and his lean 175-pound frame looks menacing. “I used to do mixed martial arts,” he says. “My game plan tonight is to kick some serious ass.” Tim paces and eyes his opponent, Evan “Big Daddy” Odim, 28. The stakes are high for Big Daddy. (“My daughter picked the name,” he says, grinning.) Friday will be his first day at Citigroup and his new colleagues are there. Being the new guy is hard enough, but being the new guy who lost could prove an insurmountable challenge.
While Evan is looking to make a good first impression, “Dangerous” Jay Neu of T3 Capital is looking to undo a bad one. 38-year-old Jay, 5'11" and 190 pounds, lost a Wall Street bout last November. His boss, Marc Sperling, was in the audience then and is here tonight. “He has to do it for his pride,” Marc says. “It’s the biggest thing he’s got.” Meanwhile, Mark Buccigross, a client of ITG who came down from Connecticut, is putting pressure on his trader, Scott Bauer. “If he loses, the business is going away,” he says while snacking on mini-sandwiches in the VIP section. It’s not clear whether or not he’s joking.
Before the first fight, but after VIP cocktail hour, the crowd is rowdy. A trader from Oppenheimer Funds, there to support colleague Darren “The Destroyer” Miles, 37, has spilled his beverage into the DJ booth. Todd Kramer, Craig’s boss at NYMEX, presides over a loud ringside table. “If he wins,” he says, “we’re getting a couple of tables at Tenjune afterward.” In the ring, announcer Bert Sugar, a legendary boxing personality, clutches his trademark cigar. “New York City is a town that starts in a graveyard and ends in a river,” the 72-year-old says. Silence. “I’ve got my boxing shorts on,” he yells into the crowd, “and I’m not afraid to use them!”
Both inside and outside the ring, rivalries abounded. When I asked Justin Dennis why JP Morgan didn’t have any fighters participating, he replied, “We don’t have any fighters because we’re too busy working” and nodded significantly to Don Dentino from Credit Suisse--a firm with two fighters in competition. When Evan “Big Daddy” Odim entered the ring, some of Tim Nersten’s sixty supporters took up the chant, “Big Flabby.”
But the wrath of the masses wasn’t fully felt until Andrew “Don’t Blink” Meyerson of Goldman Sachs. fought Andre “The Greek Sheik” Ameer of Copper River Management. Before Bert Sugar finished “Goldman Sachs” the room had erupted into a jostling chorus of boos. Goldman Sachs, it turns out, isn’t the most popular bank on Wall Street. The southpaw Meyerson seemed to take little notice as he systematically dismantled his opponent with straight lefts. But after he was declared the winner he grabbed the microphone from Craig Gasparino, the bumbling co-announcer and CNBC talking head, and shouted into the audience, “Who’s booing Goldman Sachs? Why? Because we’re making money? Big whoop!” This too was met with more boos. It was part Rocky, part WWF and part Jim Cramer’s Mad Money.
Tim “The Bull” Nersten lost a decision to Evan “Big Daddy” Odim. His friends--in from Staten Island and from Liquidnet--seemed saddened but supportive. “They still seem to love me so I’m doing okay,” said a battered Nersten. Joe “The Enforcer” Magee of Vigilant was no match for Craig Capurso who caught the 29 year old in the corner and made a mess of him. Dangerous Jay Neu won himself vindication at the hands of a badly bloodied Scott Bauer. Whether or not all Bauer’s business will evaporate remains to be seen. Tom Lynch of Credit Suisse scored a technical knockout victory of Darren Miles. After the bouts ended, Lynch was surrounded by his colleagues and given bear hugs and high fives. He waved off offers of Heinekens but accepted the congratulations. Would he get the day off tomorrow? He snuck a look at his boss and said, “Well, I’ll have to work that out later.” Most of the party headed to the nearby ESPN Zone but didn’t stay long. After all, they had to be back on the floor by the time the bell sounded in the morning.