I know the idea behind this year’s 30th and last Fight Night held on Thursday, November 14th was to hit a high note, but did it really have to be the best one ever? The quality of the event had the guests, including this one, begging for more. Isn’t it possible to do one perhaps every other year? Please?
Anyway, let’s go inside. The reception hall has become a staple of this celebration. There were a dozen open bars, four signature drink stations at which most had more than one signature drink, and six silent auction tables focused primarily on sports memorabilia. The games that attendees could play were in place, such as golf, basketball, and hockey. Mascots from all of the major District of Columbia sports teams mingled among the guests including Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln from the Washington Nationals. It was here that I ran into Keith Gordon, the CEO of Fight for Children, the organization that puts on this gala. I asked him his feelings about tonight.
“When we reflected on this evening,” Mr. Gordon replied, “we thought about Joe [Joseph E. Robert, Jr., the founder of Fight for Children and the creator of Fight Night]. We reminisced about everything Joe would have wanted to accomplish in his lifetime. When we see all the people supporting this event we picture Joe smiling from heaven.” Mr. Robert passed away at the end of 2011 from brain cancer.
I then moved over to the Red Carpet to catch a glimpse of the Legends of Boxing. In attendance were “Buster” Douglas, Ray Mancini, Gerry Cooney, Earnie Shavers, and Sugar Ray Leonard. They all looked great.
Also present at the Red Carpet was Jim Gibson. Mr. Gibson was an extremely close friend of Mr. Robert’s. He produced the first 22 Fight Nights. I asked him about its origin.
“We had no money,” Mr. Gibson recalled. “We had no budget. Joe said he wanted music so I brought over my home stereo. Much much different from today’s experience.”
I then moved back to the reception area since transitioning from one space to the other is especially fun. In the rapidly expanding crowd I found myself standing next to David Fensterheim, Fight for Children’s board chair. Of course, I also inquired of him regarding his view about the last Fight Night.
“It’s very bittersweet,” the Fight for Children chairman asserted. “I know that Joe would want us to go out on top. This may be the end of Fight Night but we are ready for Fight for Children 2.0.”
It was then time to enter the ballroom. It became immediately clear that Fight Night had been restored to its previous iconic incarnations. Back, after a year’s absence, were the 180 hostesses, but instead of wearing red cocktail dresses these were dark blue and generally more conservative. As guests arrived female acrobats were performing routines on the boxing rink stationed as always in the middle of the expansive hall. They could also be found on the stage in the back behind the tables. Some danced with incandescent hula hoops. Loud music and laser lights filled the air. Images from previous Fight Nights appeared on suspended video screens around the perimeter of the ring. 2,000 attendees, predominately men in black tie, immediately starting smoking the cigars located on each table.
After the introduction of the Legends of Boxing by Mr. Fensterheim, the attendees were provided with an exceptionally classy act. All of the previous Fight Night Chairmen were brought onto the ring and presented with red boxing robes with hoods complete with their last name embroidered on the back. Then it was announced that Luke Robert, one of Joe Robert’s sons, would accept the robe on behalf of his father. A plaque containing a picture of Mr. Robert accompanied the robe. Luke then announced to the audience that “Dad is blushing right now.”
Dinner was being served complete with the traditional foot-long steaks and mashed potatoes. Some things should never change.
Toward the end of his life, Mr. Robert’s friend, musician Kenneth Brian Edmonds, known as Babyface, wrote the song “Hey Joe” about him. It was set to a montage of images from Mr. Robert’s time on earth. For the 30th Fight Night the pictures accompanied the song were redone and the new video was then played for attendees.
Afterwards Mr. Fensterheim thanked former Fight for Children board chair Raul Fernandez, former Fight for Children president and CEO Michela English, former board member Mayor Anthony Williams, Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Roberts family, and the staff of Fight for Children including Michelle Babst, Kim Stevenson, Liz Warnecki, Ellett Toomey, and Judy Wrench for all of their contributions to Fight for Children.
Boxing was next on the agenda. In a 10 round match Sam Teach became the new USBA Jr. Champion when he defeated the previous Champion Sonny Fredrickson. It was a battle worthy of the significance of the night.
A performance by the Redskins cheerleaders followed the boxing with the women in uniforms identical to those worn for years at this event. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band “Cheap Trick” then gave a highly energetic performance to a boisterous audience.
It was then unfortunately the moment everyone left the ballroom for the after party back at the reception space where we started. Naughty by Nature, a Grammy award-winning hip hop band, entertained the group.
I just stood wondering if I would ever see this sight again.
Fight Night raised approximately $3 million. Since its inception the function has brought in over $65 million to support the health and education of low income youth.