- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

It was a walk on the wild side for a good cause.

Fight Night, the annual District spectacle that brings together the rich and powerful with boxing, booze and models, also raises more than $2 million a year for Fight for Children, a charity that helps a number of D.C. area youth programs.

Last night, more than 2,000 fans attended paid $700 to attend the 16th Fight Night at Washington Hilton and Towers. The event remains a popular one for the city’s A list.

“In fact, it is more popular now than ever,” said Joseph E. Robert, Fight for Children chairman and the driving force behind Fight Night. “It’s been sold out every year. I haven’t had to make a call in 15 years for someone to buy a table.”

At Fight Night, boxing is almost an afterthought. It is chance to rub elbows with the legends of the sport — Joe Frazier, Aaron Pryor, Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Leonard were in attendance last night.

“I love coming to Washington and being here,” Frazier said. “My mom and dad taught me to love and respect people, and if these people didn’t support fighters, we would be nowhere. They are the ones who made me.”

What these fighters gave in return were memories of epic fights filled with heart as much as knockouts. The Ali-Frazier trifecta is and will forever be the gold standard for the sport. Pryor engaged in one of the most memorable fights of the 1980s when he and Alexis Arguello battled each other the first time they met. And LaMotta, the raging bull, helped make Sugar Ray Robinson’s legacy.

Which begs the question, who will fans want to rub elbows with 16 years from now? Who will be the boxing legends of tomorrow?

It’s a pathetic landscape. There are now four heavyweight champions: Chris Byrd, Lamon Brewster, John Ruiz and Hasim Rahman. Ruiz is the World Boxing Association heavyweight champion because the guy who beat him, James Toney, tested positive for steroids. Rahman is the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion because the guy who held the title, Vitali Klitschko — who was supposed to fight Rahman tonight in Las Vegas — retired last week because of a knee injury.

Who would want to pay money to be with any of these imposters? Really, what kind of memories will boxing fans be able to share with Ruiz? About how exciting it was to get James Toney’s blood test results back from the lab?

It couldn’t be for anything they did in the ring. Of the four, the only one who did something worth remembering is Rahman, who knocked out Lennox Lewis in South Africa four years ago. He then squandered that opportunity by taking the rematch lightly and getting destroyed.

What will people talk to Rahman about 16 years from now? The win he barely squeaked out over 37-year-old former cruiserweight champion Al Cole at Ballroom Boxing in Glen Burnie, Md., two years ago? Getting thrown from the convertible in an accident during his welcome home parade in Baltimore after he beat Lewis?

“I don’t know who any of these guys are,” Frazier said. “I don’t know who the champion is. We need to get back to one champion.”

Don King wants to do exactly that. He controls all four of the heavyweight champions. He wants to run a tournament to have one heavyweight champion.

Don’t bother. The heavyweight champion is King, who has managed to best rival Bob Arum again in this whole Klitschko retirement fairy tale.

King was expecting to promote the fight between Rahman and Klitschko, but it went to a purse bid, which meant anyone willing to pay could come in and bid on it. Arum, who had been out of the heavyweight boxing business, stunned King by coming in and winning a $12 million bid for the fight. But there will be no fight since Klitschko retired for now.

Don’t be surprised if Klitschko’s broken down body heals after there is one champion with all the belts. Hopefully, his knee problems will heal in time for the day he comes to Fight Night.

Robert doesn’t seem too concerned about the prospects for future legends.

“Nobody buys a ticket knowing who the legends are going to be there,” Robert said. “We don’t tell people who the legends are, who the fighters will be or who the entertainment will be. Everyone who buys a ticket does so because they will have a nice meal and see everyone in the world and have a great time, all for a great cause.”

Yes, but without the legends, it is just another Washington social event — granted a big one and always for a great cause. But the presence of most of the fighters that are today’s champions only would cheapen the night and value the days when there were indeed legends of boxing.

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