One Night to Fight For Health, Education

Monday, November 3, 2008

The bruised economy has delivered only a glancing blow to Fight Night, the testosterone-soaked, guys-only charity bash held each year at the Hilton Washington.

The charity's founder and primary benefactor, Joseph E. Robert Jr., chairman of the J.E. Robert Cos., said the sales of tables are taking a little longer this year, which he attributes to a slowing economy. Fight Night has raised millions for Fight for Children, which helps provide education and health care to D.C. children.

Robert said the Wall Street crisis may be keeping some customers, such as big banks and investment firms, at home. But he said others are picking up the slack.

Heavyweight sponsors like law firm Greenberg Traurig, Boston-based private-equity firm Berkshire Partners, the Washington Nationals and Asurion, a Tennessee-based cellphone insurer, have signed up. Also look for boldface names like Danaher co-founder Mitchell Rales, private-equity mogul Fred Malek and venture capitalists including Mark Ein and Raul Fernandez.

"Given what's going on in the economy, some corporations have received the word from on high to cut back," Robert said, declining to name any names. "The traditional buyers of these tables have been high-income earners who have worked in investment banking and the banking industry, which got crushed this year. That has had some impact."

But Robert predicts a sellout by the opening bell this Thursday, and he predicts the charity will eclipse last year's $2.5 million because of higher prices for tables and sponsors.

"We had more tables available this time of year than we normally have, but [the payments] are starting to come in," Robert said. "We always sell 15 tables in the last couple of weeks."

Even the wealthiest Wall Streeter might find the entrance fee a bit daunting. Robert said the most expensive tables cost around $30,000; the cheapest is around $7,500.

One local businessman who has sponsored a table for several years and who spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn't want to offend Robert, expects another sellout. But he predicted that the silent auction for sports paraphernalia and other goodies "will be less than robust this year."

Fight Night has been a fixture on the Washington social and philanthropic scene for years. Only men are invited, although each table includes a hostess, dressed in an evening gown, who brings drinks to the table. The entertainment has included boxing legends like Gerry Cooney, Buster Douglas, Joe Frazier and Roberto Duran.

But the real main event is a dance by the Redskins cheerleaders, who stomp around the ring in skimpy outfits to the heart-stopping sound of rock music.

This year's attendees will also include rapper-producer Jermaine Dupri and actor-comedian Chris Tucker.

Venture capitalist Fernandez, who is a part owner of the Washington Capitals and Verizon Center, said that, at least for one night, people will try to forget the economy.

"We're going to party like it's 1929," Fernandez said.

-- Thomas Heath

© 2008 The Washington Post Company