Roy Englebrecht

Longtime boxing and mixed martial arts promoter Roy Englebrecht has staged bouts in Orange County for years. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / July 14, 2013)

It keeps with Englebrecht's philosophy of not overspending on facility rent. He's proud and content with who he is, a minor league sports promoter who lives in a gated Newport Beach community.

"So many promoters think they have to be in a big arena to be a big-time promoter," he said. "They'll pay $30,000 to rent a 10,000-seat arena and they're paying for 8,000 empty seats. Makes no sense.

"Paying less for the rental and selling every one of those seats with the energy that every fan is saying, 'This is the place to be, I'm coming back.'"

Englebrecht puts on 22 shows a year in California and Washington, with boxing accounting for fewer than half of the bouts.

He's made a career of smart, outside-the-box thinking in the business of sports. He hired a kid intern at the Forum who became Magic Johnson's agent, Lon Rosen.

"The guy just never seemed to stop working, did innovative giveaways," Rosen said. "He was always on, 100 miles per hour, with the energy of 10 people. And he's still that way."

Boxing wasn't part of his original game plan.

Englebrecht was then buying radio broadcast rights to local men's college basketball programs, and while trying to secure sponsorship from the Irvine Marriott, a hotel executive asked him if he believed boxing inside the hotel could draw a crowd.

"Instead of saying, 'No,' and going on to the sale, I said, 'No, but why?'" Englebrecht said. "An entrepreneur should always ask why because you never know if there's a business there."

Twice, he has sold his promotions business, then bought it back.

First, he sold to "some guys from Newport who just wanted to date the ring-card girls, sit in the first row and drive their Ferraris to the show. . . . I re-bought it at 10 cents on the dollar," Englebrecht said. "People just see the show and don't realize how tough this business is."

Englebrecht said he achieved his "brass-ring" moment when Oscar De La Hoya and Richard Schaefer, with Golden Boy Promotions, purchased his firm and ran it from 2002-04. Golden Boy is now one of the two biggest boxing promotion firms in the U.S. and sold a record $19.5 million in tickets for the Sept. 14 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Saul "Canelo" Alvarez fight.

"It's important in any business to learn it from the bottom up, and Roy was instrumental in teaching us," Schaefer said. "He taught us well, being very detail-oriented and frugal. He wouldn't waste a dollar on something like giving a fighter a per diem when he could instead pack him up a brown-bag lunch with a sandwich, Coke and chocolate bar."

When Golden Boy outgrew the Orange County fight cards, Englebrecht took them over in 2005.

Englebrecht is also part-owner of minor league baseball teams in San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga, and brought arena football to Orange County, staying true to his philosophy of "over-delivering" to his customers who might expect less from a "minor league" production.

The simple charms of the business remain.

"To give a first-time fighter a $1,000 check, to see his face, knowing he became a pro athlete like Magic Johnson or Mike Trout on your show," Englebrecht said. "It's a very neat feeling. And I still get that feeling 28 years later.

"They have to start someplace, they don't turn 18 and go to UFC. They turn 18 and fight for the king of the minor leagues."