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Wharton Fight Night

Glasgow street tough and New York hedge fund manager mix boxing and business

By  Sunny Li

Fri Aug 14 2009

{{video:embed url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhPGJ-QG07g"}}

This year’s Fight Night proved to be a surprising staging post for the business ambitions of two boxing-obsessed Wharton MBA students: Irish fighter Donal McElwee and Connecticut-born organizer Anusha Prasad.

For Prasad, a former Morgan Stanley hedge fund analyst, raising $55,000 for Philadelphia 's Boys and Girls Club made the sell-out event “a memorable evening”. Former lawyer McElwee, an amateur boxer, was “always gonna put [himself] up for it”.

The annual Fight Night, which is held in February, has been running for three years. Initially it was a series of boxing matches between students from Wharton and Penn Law School, though this year other faculties participated. Preparation was serious: twelve student fighters trained every weekend for five months under boxing coach Cliff Johnson, at the local Lef Jab Boxing Club.

Prasad joined Fight Night's seven-member organizing committee last December. She was the only first-year MBA student to do so: “B-school is two year program, so you need to get involved with something,” she says. Her job varied from finding fighters and security guards to booking venues and finding a great DJ.

The 28-year-old says one of her biggest challenges was to match two fighters with the same level of skill and weight: “Finding fighters wasn't easy… Since Penn Law didn't have as many fighters this year we had to look for people from the engineering and education schools to take part.”

But Wharton's rugby captain McElwee, from County Donegal, Ireland, wasn't hard to find. Having lived in a tough neighborhood in Glasgow in his youth, the 28-year-old felt compelled to join the boxing club. In fact McElwee, a Harvard Law graduate, says he had his eyes on the fight before arriving at Wharton: “I knew about it before I applied. As soon as I saw it I was gonna take it up,” he says.

McElwee was Wharton's “No.1 Fighter” on the final fight, up against Nathan Dyer from the Education School. “Nathan is a good fighter,” he says. “He previously attended Notre Dame where he fought eight times. We both knew it was gonna be a good match-up.”

McElwee made a promise to keep the event’s 1,300 spectators entertained. They’d each paid $50 to get into the event at Philadelphia’s Legendary Blue Horizon boxing center.

First off, to emphasize his “proud Irish roots,” he hired midget leprechauns to be part of his entourage when he entered the ring to a backing track of live Irish bag-pipes played by a friend. Then, true to his word, McElwee knocked Dyer down in the second round, and went on to win outright in the third.

McElwee knew Dyer from the first day of the training camp, back in September. “There might be a few black eyes [after the fight], but… I think we're still good friends,” he jokes.

He also says that confidence was the key to winning, something he plans to use in his business career: “You can't have a shadow of a doubt.”

After Wharton, McElwee plans to find a strategy role in either consulting or the sports industry, and is convinced he will benefit from the school's the top sports facilities and in-depth sports business classes. He is also considering fighting for Wharton again next year.

For Prasad, helping to organize Fight Night taught her to get the most out of her resources. “I was handed opportunities to create opportunities,” she says. “It taught me to do things like this on a larger scale. It's been featured heavily on my CV.”

Prasad wants to work in asset management in New York City, where she first took boxing classes, when her adventures at Wharton draw to an end.