Christopher Kwiatkowski’s House of Pain: Real Estate Day Job, Fighting Through the Night

A few years back, Christopher Kwiatkowski arrived at a work meeting in Manhattan and drew prolonged stares. Mr. Kwiatkowski had a broken nose and two black eyes.

“It looked as if I had been in a bar brawl and I had to address the issue right away,” recalled the 39-year-old real estate pro, who specializes in high-end condos and hotels. “I told them, ‘I am a kick boxer and I had a fight last night.’” Eventually, someone asked how he had fared against his opponent. “Very well, I knocked him out.”

Just last week, Mr. Kwiatkowski, whose nickname is the Polish Punisher, was preparing for his latest bout against a fighter from Utah—a 20-year-old named Oliver Parker who was literally in diapers when Mr. Kwiatkowski was his age.

In preparation for his fight, he was fasting (in order to make weight) and inspecting a penthouse in one of the properties that he has helped develop, the newly built Beatrice on West 29th Street. He showed me into a spacious bathroom with floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Nice, eh?” he remarked proudly.  “You can sit on the pot and have an excellent view of the East River.” Inspecting the inside of a medicine cabinet, Mr. Kwiatkowski noted with disapproval an exposed screw head, and remarked that this was simply unacceptable in a $23,000-a-month apartment.

He lamented that in order to get quality he sometimes felt as if he had to “babysit” the contractors, but then added happily, “That’s where being a fighter helps—your bark has more bite.”

The following evening, well over a thousand people jammed themselves inside the cavernous basement of an old building in midtown Manhattan to see Mr. Kwiatkowski’s fight. The room was very hot. Fans stood shoulder to shoulder, fanning themselves and shouting into one another’s ears over the pounding thud of hip-hop.

The event was part of the Friday Night Fights series, which showcases Muay Thai fighters, like Mr. Kwiatkowski. Muay Thai is a less genteel form of boxing that allows fighters to punch, kick, knee and elbow; there are only a few concessions to civility: biting, for instance, isn’t allowed. “It is the brain injuries that you have to worry about,” he explained matter-of-factly. “Especially in my line of work, where you have to use your brain.”

The crowd at the fight was an unlikely mix of well-groomed professionals in businesswear, bespectacled rock ‘n’ rollers, and tattooed toughs in shirts sans sleeves. Many of the suits worked in real estate and had come to root for Mr. Kwiatkowski.

Kevin Lillis, an executive at Hampshire Hotels & Resorts, occasionally organizes large real estate “networking events” around Mr. Kwiatkowski’s fights. Mr. Lillis explained, “It is not like watching Derek Jeter on TV—Chris is in our industry. So we come out for him, and when he wins, we win.”

Scott Sambade, another real estate developer, added exuberantly, “You support the people you go into battle with—and Chris does battle in the real estate world!”

Mr. Kwiatkowski’s female fans offered a slightly different perspective. “In real estate, there are a lot of guys who talk, but can’t back it up,” explained Marisa Morabito, who specializes in deficient loans at MetLife. “Chris, however, can back it up.”

As she was talking, a fight got underway in which one young woman, who sported a short-cropped Afro, was ferociously punching the face of the other young woman, who had long blond hair and was fast coming to resemble a gorey Rapunzel. “Where do these girls learn to do this?” asked Ms. Morabito with awe.

Finally, after a number of warm-up bouts, Mr. Kwiatkowski took the stage with much fanfare. The haunting and ethereal sound of a Pi Java—or Javanese clarinet—could be heard as traditional Muay Thai music blasted from the loudspeakers. He then began a ritual dance in which he circled the ring, sealing off the space to keep evil spirits at bay. Mr. Kwiatkowski’s mother, a petite woman who sat near the front row, looked on proudly and remarked, “Look at what he is doing—he is psyching out his opponent!”

Several seats away, the celebrated tattoo artist and reality TV star Chris Torres noted that “if your mom is coming to watch you beat someone up, you got to be doing something right.”

Moments later, the bell went off and Mr. Parker, who appeared very strong, if slightly less skilled, charged  trying to back the older man into a corner in order to pummel him—but Mr. Kwiatkowski repeatedly fended him off. “Come on, baby!” yelled one of his fans. “Hit him in his fucking face, baby!” Eventually, he did manage to do just that and, after four rounds of hard fighting, the judges unanimously declared him the winner.

Mr. Kwiatkowski’s supporters were exuberant. “It was not a slug fest,” opined one of the real estate boosters. “It was a real chess match.”

Others marveled that their man was successful both as a fighter and as a real estate developer. There were, however, plenty in attendance that evening who had no idea what the Polish Punisher did for work. This included his opponent, the young Oliver Parker, who, upon learning the news prior to the fight, seemed pleasantly surprised.

“That is kind of amusing,” he remarked. “I will have to talk to him later about a house.”


Christopher Kwiatkowski’s House of Pain: Real Estate Day Job, Fighting Through the Night