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Boxing Headline

Finding themselves in the ring instead of on the field, the Redskinettes demonstrate their cheerleading skills to a different audience.
(Thomas Arledge - For The Washington Post)
From Page 1

A pack of almost impossibly fresh and athletic-looking young women arrived, all about the same size, in matching warmups. These were the Redskinettes, the Washington Redskins' cheerleaders. They waited while a straggler caught up. She had come in through a different entrance and gotten lost in the hotel, but she was wearing a headset telephone and somebody talked her down to the lobby, not unlike the way the guy in the control tower tells the stewardess how to fly the plane in an airport disaster movie.

When the straggler had been recovered, the Redskinettes continued down to the ballroom level to get ready. They found an empty hallway in which to run through their routine of strenuously feline maneuvers, all executed while smiling and not appearing to breathe heavily. Male hotel employees seemed to be contriving errands that required them to go down this hallway.
 Photo Gallery
Fight Night

The average height of the women passing through the lobby increased by several inches as the hostesses began streaming in. Made-up and coifed as if for a war party, uniformly leggy, decked out in a variety of eye-catching evening wear that tended toward sequins rather than classic understatement, they variously stalked, swayed and clattered through on deadly looking high heels.

Fight Night's organizers had hired the Erickson Agency to supply female company for the male patrons. The hostesses got paid a standard rate of $55 per hour to look good and see to the gentlemen's needs for food, drink, cigars and platonic attention. In the spirit of Fight Night, the hostesses returned up to half their wages to Fight for Children as charitable donations.

These women were for the most part professionals in the babe trade-models and actresses, broadly construed. Like the Redskinettes, they had spent significant portions of their lives passing up dessert and doing sit-ups, but the hostesses were trained down almost too fine, to gauntness. Towering in their heels, they made the more compactly built Redskinettes look like shapely dwarves.

The public relations crew managing the Fight Night show had been running around the hotel all day, murmuring into cell phones and sheepdogging retired fighters. Now, having changed into formal wear, they gathered in the lobby, a cluster of men in tuxedos and a couple of women in black and red dresses. They were keyed up, ready to go: The guests would be arriving soon.

The greeters deployed in the lobby. These were women wearing red satin shorts, sleeveless white Everlast tops, and black half-gloves of the kind used by boxers when they hit bags in training. They huddled around their boss, Tricia Erickson, a tall blonde in a white dress, who reminded them of the game plan. "The guests will come in through these outside doors here. You say, 'Welcome to Fight Night,' cheerful, full of energy, and then you say, 'Right this way.' " Here she modeled an arm gesture worthy of a figure skater, with elements of both pointing and flourish in it, directed toward the stairs. She posted the greeters in a skirmish line across the lobby and then rushed downstairs to attend to the main body of her troops massing on the ballroom level.

In the enormous International Ballroom, scores of black-clad servers rushed to set 189 round tables arranged around a raised ring. In the ring, the Pointer Sisters rehearsed their mini-set, two numbers they would sing over a taped music track. The timing of their entrance needed work. They had to climb through the ropes, greet the audience and be ready to sing "I'm So Excited" on cue. If they were too slow, they would miss the cue or be obliged to start singing while still negotiating the ropes; if they got into the ring too soon, they would be forced to stall until the singing cue, giving the audience occasion to consider the fact that they were doing a karaoke version of their own song. Practicing their spontaneous greetings, the Pointer Sisters shouted "Hello!" and "Yeah, Fight Night!" with great conviction, as if the servers and technicians in the ballroom were cheering instead of going about their business. When the sound check was done, they climbed out of the ring again and the music cut off. One server, a broad-beamed woman of middle years with a napkin over her arm, could be heard saying to a colleague, "Macho Camacho's still fighting? With his old-ass self? Who's he fighting?"

The guests, the patrons of Fight for Children, began to arrive. Two thousand strong, they had donated up to $25,000 apiece, for a total of $2 million, making Fight Night one of the biggest charity events in town. They were, for the most part, rich and powerful businessmen, lawyers, politicos. Most live in the Washington area, but some come to town from other states or countries every year for Fight Night. And they were, almost without exception, men: Old ones and almost young ones, fat and thin, they all tended to good haircuts, fresh shaves and crisp tuxedos. It being early, their bow ties were still on straight.

"There will be five seated women this year, and I'm one of them," said Alexis Contant, executive director of Fight for Children. Trim and snappily dressed, she had a stogie in one hand and a glass of cognac in the other. "The understanding is that they come `sans spouse.' In a lot of cases their wife or girlfriend goes to the Knock Out Abuse benefit, our sister event held on the same night." While the Knock Out Abuse Against Women function explicitly bars men from attending, Fight Night merely caters to male patrons. "It's clearly a men's thing," Contant said. "I'd say they're lightly misbehaving, nothing bad."

Light misbehavior about covers it. Most people connected to Fight Night seemed to consider it a deliciously wicked scene, but, compared with the atmosphere at a typical Saturday night fight card in tank towns across America, gentility prevailed. There were certainly no fistfights in the crowd; no obvious strippers moonlighting as round-card girls, throwing in a bump-and-grind as they paraded around the ring between rounds; few comments coarser than "Is this a great country or what?" inspired by passing cuties. The patrons were too respectable to risk groping the help at a public charity event, and the hostesses more than competent enough to fend off the few who forgot themselves. Playacting was the keynote, as patrons and hostesses staged a role-playing fantasy: sugar daddies meet gold diggers.

The greeters shunted arriving patrons into party rooms for pre-dinner cocktails, where the hostesses descended upon them and turned on the charm. Like a challenger who must take the fight to a defensive-minded champion, the hostesses had the burden of initiating and sustaining the action. They homed in on and broke up male-only conversational clusters, applying a combination of social lubricants to each man. "Hi, I'm Kelli! What's your name? Would you like me to get you another drink? How about a cigar?" It was a massacre. The men knew this attention to be a paid service rather than a product of their own native attractiveness, but they could not help puffing up with pride and good cheer.

They felt like real . . . guys. As the cocktail party gathered momentum around him, Joe Robert Jr., the real estate investment mogul and sponsor of the Alexandria Boxing Club who founded Fight Night 10 years ago, explained that he was originally inspired by an old photograph. "It's a picture I saw in the basement of the Congressional Country Club. There was a label on it that said something like 'Fight Night, 1930' on it, and there's these guys, all dressed up, leaning back, with big cigars. It just has this feel, this sense. I was intrigued by it and it stayed with me." Reviving the smoker as a form of nocturnal male socializing, Fight Night 1999 offered men a chance to imagine that they were throwing off several generations' worth of gender training to play, for a few hours, at being the idealized antediluvian guys in the picture: robber barons who seize wealth with one hand and dispense it as charity with the other, heroic eaters and drinkers and smokers of unhealthy things, unapologetic oglers of beautiful women, connoisseurs of hitting.

The hired women worked hard to preserve this feeling. The Erickson Agency went all-out to do a first-class job on Fight Night, which has become one of the company's biggest events. Jim Choate, the agency's casting director for television and film, moved through the VIP cocktail party, keeping an eye on his charges at work. Mustached and wearing a long tuxedo coat, he cultivated a 19th-century rapscallion look. "We've got about 300 girls here," he said, "between the greeters, cigar girls and the hostesses. Thirty handpicked ones, the very best, the most beautiful, are here in the VIP lounge." He pointed out this one who had been on television, that one who had been in a print advertisement. "They're here as emissaries, if you will," he continued. "They make the gentlemen comfortable, remind them to have a good time." Tricia Erickson appeared out of the crowd and joined the conversation. "At dinner," she explained, "each of the hostesses on duty will be responsible for a table of 10 men. We say, 'Imagine that they're 10 little boys and you're the den mother.' Our attitude is that we're motherly and nurturing. We pretend it's a birthday party for all our little boys." Motherhood, rather than sex, appeared to be the Erickson Agency's preferred rhetoric.

"There's no touching," said Erickson, and Choate emphatically seconded her: "Our girls are told they should not touch, and if anybody touches one of them, she's supposed to tell us and he's out." There appeared to be plenty of social touching going on all around, the kissy routines, hand-on-arm gestures and shoulder-rubbing that a party entails. And there would be even more of it later, at dinner and after. When a fighter gets tired, his hands come down; when the men had had a few more drinks, their hands began straying to narrow female waists. But there was no ostentatious honking of body parts-what Erickson meant by "touching." Like fight trainers, she and Choate vigilantly monitored the hostesses as they mixed it up with the patrons. "We'll pull a girl aside," Erickson said, "and let her know if we see she's doing something wrong." The hostesses would be on their feet most of the night, with a scheduled break every two hours-long rounds, with only brief rests in between.

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