Normally the first rule of Fight Club is to not talk about Fight Club. However, Tyler Durden’s decree does little to deter the amateur boxing event known as “Rumble in the Rockies ” — where ordinary people punch the shit out of each other …

… for a good cause.

The group of 28 men and women taping up also didn’t meet in the parking lot of a bar. It was at a legitimate venue usually reserved for concerts in Colorado, The Fillmore Auditorium.

But the softer side of the event reveals an ocean of humanity. Each one of the fighters shares a connection. They all have a loved one that was diagnosed with cancer. Nonprofit organization Haymakers for Hope brought them together to raise money for cancer research, awareness, survivorship, and care — not by doing a humdrum 5K or stuffy auction, but by training them to box and letting them let loose on each another in a regulation ring. (Essentially landing blows for the people they love.)

“They’re all complete amateurs, but gave it their all,” says Brian Schroy, regional fights manager for H4H. “It’s all heart.”

Before stepping into the ring, the boxers go through four months of training, paired with a local boxing gym and coach. And to bystanders, the 5:00 a.m. workouts showed.

During the first bout, it was evident these product managers and stay-at-home parents were out for blood. Fight after fight, the speed and energy increased, and only in a few split seconds every bout could you see the inner monologue switch from “fuck, fuck, what am I doing here, fuck!” followed by some relief when the round was over and the “ring card girls”(men and women who are cancer survivors or people undergoing treatment, including Denver Nuggets coach George Karl) came out.

Sure, it’s all for a good cause (the Colorado fighters collectively raised roughly $200,000, while Haymakers’ New York and Boston events raise $900,000 and $800,000 respectively), but watching the matches made you feel like you were in an underground illegal boxing match inspired by a Marvel Comics dramatic plot.

In essence, it felt real. Probably because squaring up with someone who wants to knock your teeth out taps something primal in everyone. More so, pulling inspiration from a family member or loved one that has suffered made each person train and fight their heart out.

Candace Yassaman Alai, a model by day, was one fighter who went hard in the training process at The Corner Boxing Club. She pushed through blisters the size of eggs and is happy she now has a Rocky-esque set of abs. It was all to fight for her Grandma who battled breast cancer for several years.

“My grandmother motivated me to get in the ring,” Alai tells Rooster Magazine. “She battled with breast cancer for many years but you’d never know. She stayed so strong for the family the entire time but was truly struggling inside. During training when shit got tough, I remembered I don’t have it that bad, my grandmother went through much worse … and everything about training was hard.

“There’s nothing easy about being punched in face while sparring or jump roping until your arms feel like they’re going to fall off, or pushups after pushups,” she continues. “I cried more times during this process than I have in years. It’s very frustrating when you want to be better but you can’t seem to get it right. The first time I sparred I got my ass beat by one of the teenage boys and I started crying uncontrollably, right there in the middle of the ring in front of the whole gym.”

But that was a long time ago … or at least a lot of push-ups ago.

On fight night, Alai threw down and delivered one of two knockouts of the event. “All I imagined was my hand being raised at the end. My opponent came up to me prior to the fight and said ‘good luck, it’s going to be a blood bath tonight,’ and I just thought for who? You or me? It definitely fueled my already lit fire to win the match.”

Haymakers for Hope are always accepting charitable donations … and applications for the next Fight Club.

[all photos by Mike Kvackay for Rooster Magazine]