BOSTON (CBS) – They are engineers, social workers, MBA students, and medical researchers.

They have never boxed before.

But Saturday night, March 1, two dozen ‘white collar’ professionals from the Boston area will put on boxing gloves, step into the ring, and give it all they’ve got—in front of hundreds of friends, family members, and coworkers.

Intimidating? No doubt.

But these novice fighters, all of whom have no formal boxing experience, are squaring off for a good cause—to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

It’s all part of A Bout to Benefit, a charity boxing event coming to Watertown, supporting the Michael J. Dunleavy Foundation. Sixteen men and eight women, mostly in their twenties and thirties, are set to go toe-to-toe in a series of twelve, three-round bouts.

“It’s a great opportunity to get involved with a local charity that makes a difference,” said Cobhan Phillipson, 28, of Cambridge.

A big difference.

In 2002, Gerry and Toni Dunleavy of Winchester lost their eight year old son Michael to an inoperable brain tumor.  (Photo courtesy: Michael J. Dunleavy Foundation)

In 2002, Gerry and Toni Dunleavy of Winchester lost their eight year old son Michael to an inoperable brain tumor. (Photo courtesy: Michael J. Dunleavy Foundation)

In 2002, Gerry and Toni Dunleavy of Winchester lost their eight year old son Michael to an inoperable brain tumor. While waging his own fight, Michael was determined to help other children facing the same battle.

The Dunleavys formed a foundation in Michael’s name and have since raised nearly two million dollars—much of it benefiting Massachusetts General Hospital and Camp Sunshine, a facility serving terminally ill children and their families, in Maine.

“It makes us feel so happy that our son’s memory is not forgotten, which in turn helps us deal with his loss,” said Dunleavy. “It also gives us a huge sense of satisfaction to receive letters from families who have directly benefitted from funds raised by the foundation.”

For the boxers on Saturday’s fight card, the story of Michael’s fight was all the inspiration they needed to volunteer.

“Michael’s father gave us a talk in November and I have to say it was really inspiring to me,” said Xavier Salort, 34, of Cambridge. “I am a new dad and I can only imagine what they went through.”

Most of the boxers were recruited by word of mouth.

“When I heard about it, I thought to myself, ‘how could I not do this?’” said Alexandria Papa, 28, also of Cambridge.

For the information analyst at a Central Square biotech startup, getting in fighting shape has been a challenge.

“Training has definitely been a journey. We start with zero experience,” Papa said.

The upstarts have been working out at Redline Fight Sports in Cambridge, every Thursday and Saturday for the past two months, to develop the basic skills needed in the ring.

“Boxing is really demanding. The level of fitness you need to last six minutes in a ring is unbelievable,” said Salort.

For some, their enthusiasm to spar is measured by the realities of the sport.

“I really have mixed feelings. It’s scary because you are putting your whole body at risk,” said Salort. “But it’s also exciting to do something I’ve never done before.”

Even if they find themselves on the ropes, the fighters will find plenty of support from the crowd—which promises to be a lively one. The foundation’s first white collar boxing fundraiser, last year, drew more than 600 supporters and raised $25,000.

WATCH: 2013 A Bout to Benefit

“Everyone in the ring has, for the most part, never fought before so there is a huge sense of the unknown and wonderment as to what might occur. That’s what brings out the crowds,” said Dunleavy.

That, and knowing their support will make a difference.

“We believe that because of our association with MGH, and its research, other children will have a better chance than Michael at beating cancer. That’s what motivates us to keep up going.”

A Bout to Benefit — featuring music, raffles, celebrity guests, and a cash bar—will be held Saturday, March 1st at 7:00pm at the St. James Armenian Hall in Watertown. For tickets, visit


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