The venue is booked. The gyms are lined up. The fighters are matched. Everything’s underway for the inaugural Haymakers for Hope event this September in Washington, DC. This week, Haymakers staffer Mike Cassesso is bouncing between gyms and fighter orientations; after years on the fight scene in Washington, he’s overseeing training and community for H4H’s newest fight city.

Mike’s a Massachusetts native who moved to DC to run campaigns, and knows the lay of the land in Washington. He grew up in a boxing family, and started training in mixed martial arts when he was 17. When he first moved to Washington, he worked as boxing and kickboxing trainer. “There’s a real combat sport culture here,” Mike says. “Boxing used to be really big, but that’s fallen away the last few decades as the city has changed. We don’t really see that type of old boxing culture anymore.” While the newest Haymakers recruits might not have the old school gyms Boston and New York fighters have grown to love, DC fighters are poised to find a different fight community that’s totally unique to their city.

The local gyms are welcoming their new Haymakers for Hope boxers enthusiastically, Mike says. “We’ve had very positive reactions from the gyms, which makes sense because it’s a win-win for them. They get new students, plus the great exposure of working with Haymakers for Hope. Most of the gyms are looking at it more as a chance to be helpful to the organization, investing in getting someone ready for the great challenge of fighting.”

Representing their gyms at the first fight event at The Anthem is an added bonus. “Fighters who have been doing this for years dream about fighting in a place like this,” Mike says. “The venue is pretty new, and located in one of the newest, most popular neighborhoods in DC. I love that we’ll be able to bring people to this area who might not have made their way there yet.”

And the athletes who’ll be making their way to the ring at The Anthem? The 2019 fighters include a cross section of exceptional recruits, working in the industries DC has come to be known for. In its first year, applicants to fight included active military, nurses, nonprofit executives, folks who lobby Congress. On the surface, this group doesn’t have a lot in common, save one important thing: “They’re all average, everyday people who have been touched by cancer.”

Mike’s looking forward to using his background in running political campaigns to help the fighters in DC, and he says the two jobs are actually quite similar. “The tactics that come with raising money, getting friends and family to volunteer, it’s all very similar to the tactics fighters are going to use.” There’s something to learn, too, from the many politicians living in DC: “Winning is a plus, but you shouldn’t be afraid of the idea of the adventure. Regardless of the result, I hope our fighters realize there’s comfort in knowing you did everything you could. On campaigns, I tell my teams before Election Day: regardless of the outcome, if you can go to bed knowing you did everything you could, win or lose you should be proud. It’s the same for fighters.”

There’s still time to get involved with Haymakers for Hope’s inaugural Beltway Brawl in Washington, D.C. To sign up as a volunteer, email

Written By Steph Kent