If the prospect of boxing calls to mind old-fashioned images of the sweaty, dimly-lit gym or the cigar-chomping manager yelling from the turnbuckle, you might need to update your expectations a bit for this weekend’s Friday Night Fights on Freret Street. That’s because this wildly successful event also includes DJs and rappers, drag queens, a reggae band, dancing groups, a BYOB policy for whatever you want to haul in and the promise of knockouts in bikinis, if not in the ring.

To be sure, Friday Night Fights means serious business for the athletes who have devoted so much time and effort to be able to step in the ring and compete. The night’s card includes six amateur bouts between evenly-matched fighters, with matches for men and women.

But what has made these recurring fight nights so popular for people who don’t normally follow boxing is an atmosphere engineered all around the ring that feels like a cross between a block party and a carnival. The event is held outside, with entertainment from the cast of characters mentioned above between bouts, plus whatever fun people bring with them. Before the first bell, it’s normal to see people setting up little encampments of folding chairs and breaking out food and even the occasional grill while all manner of beverages go around.

Mike Tata, owner of the Freret Street Boxing Gym, has been hosting these fight nights for a few years now. He draws a big crowd by inviting neophytes to boxing to come on terms they already understand.

“I tell people to treat it like a Mardi Gras parade,” Tata says. “You want beer, bring beer. You want wine, bring wine. You want Popeyes fried chicken, a lawn chair? Bring that. Just like you’re going to the parade route.”

Fight nights normally make for great people watching. That aspect should be a little more heightened this time around, as this week’s event has been dubbed “the Sexy Summer Show.”  The normal admission will be waived for women wearing “complete bikinis” (that is, top and bottom), and there will be a crowd-judged bikini contest during the evening. This deal cuts both ways. Men who show up wearing what Tata calls “banana hammocks” (aka Speedos) get in free too. 

“If guys are crazy enough to wear those things, that’s who we want coming to Friday Night Fights,” he says.

Now there is the potentially-confusing matter of where this all goes down. While the Freret Street Boxing Gym used to be on Freret Street, it has since moved to O.C. Haley Boulevard but has kept its Freret Street name. And although in the past the gym has hosted fight nights at its new home in Central City, this weekend’s Friday Night Fights will be back on Freret Street, in the parking lot on the 4400 block, near Napoleon Avenue.

So, the gym has a new address but the same name and is throwing its big party back by its old address. This also means all of the many Freret Street restaurants and bars are easily at hand to make a night of it.

The next edition of Friday Night Fights starts at 7 p.m. this Friday, Aug. 24. Admission (for those foregoing the bathing suit offer) is $15 in advance/$20 at the gate. Get advance tickets at the Freret Street Boxing Gym, which of course is at 1632 O.C. Haley Blvd.

For more information, call the gym at 504-895-1859 or check out Friday Night Fights on Facebook.