Joe Frazier struck a fighting pose, ducked through a cloud of cigar smoke, moved toward Ken Norton and feigned a two-punch combination, punctuated by an, "Ah! Ah!"
The punches whistled through the air fast enough to conjure memories of days gone by, but were meant only as a greeting last night, and the tuxedoed former heavyweight champions broke into smiles and shook hands before posing for a picture.
At the Washington Hilton and Towers, Frazier, Norton and other members of boxing's royalty attended Fight for Children's 15th annual Fight Night. A black-tie charity affair with an old-boys-night-out feel, Fight Night combines boxing with thick steaks, fat cigars and thin female hostesses in head-swiveling evening gowns. The event, which the July 2003 issue of Washingtonian labeled "The Best Sporting Event to Meet a Millionaire," has become a fixture on the social calendars of both Washington's power elite and the world's famous fighters.
"I've been coming here since this event started," Frazier said. "It's a great cause, and I get to see a bunch of the great, old legends."
The auction last night proved more competitive than most of the fights, as just one of four went the distance, and two lasted less than a round. In the featured bout, 147-pounder Paul Williams of South Carolina, improved to 24-0 with a fourth-round knockout of Nashville's Sammy Sparkman (17-10).
But the live pugilistics took a back seat to the food, drinks and stogies that created a large cloud over the ring long before the first bout, and the memories stirred by Frazier, Norton, Michael and Leon Spinks, Hector Camacho, Jake La Motta, Emanuel Steward and Larry Holmes, among others.
The heavyweight division in particular was well-represented last night, and the gathering of former champions was even more striking when juxtaposed with Don King's "Struggle for Supremacy" fight card scheduled for Saturday at Madison Square Garden and headlined by four heavyweight bouts, each featuring a current or former champion.
"They're not great," Holmes said. "They're just fighters."
"There never was an era before the 1970s like the 1970s, and there hasn't been one since," Norton added.
Frazier blamed the state of the division on a lack of good teachers and poor preparation by today's fighters. "Half the guys don't know what they're doing," he said.
Only two of the four title holders in the splintered division will be at the "Struggle for Supremacy," and the so-called marquee names include chronic below-the-belt puncher Andrew Golota and 42-year-old Evander Holyfield.
"Why is he still fighting?" Holmes asked incredulously. "He should be here with us. Drinking Budweiser."