Sunday, August 3, 2003

Hugh Hefner / Fight for your right to party

Hugh Hefner

Fight for your right to party

Hollywood stars, champagne, bunny girls draped around sportsmen and title fight boxing in the back yard (women on the undercard, naturally): it's a tough life at the Playboy Mansion. Duncan Campbell watches Britain's latest boxing sensation slug it out in the unlikely setting of Hugh Hefner's pleasure dome

Duncan Campbell
Sunday 3 August 2003 23.39 BST

David Haye is being given his standard pre-fight neurological check-up to make sure that his faculties and reflexes are in working order. First, he has to touch his nose. 'My nose is really big, so that's easy,' he says. Then he has to put his feet together. Then he has to squeeze his fists open and shut. Then he has to subtract seven from 100. 'Ninety three.' Then he has to remember the words 'cow, apple and bus' long enough to repeat them to the satisfaction of his examiner. Then comes the clincher.
'Do you know where you are right now?'
He laughs, as well he might.
'The Playboy Mansion.'
And this is indeed the unlikely venue for the fifth professional bout of the handsome and savvy boxer from south London. Haye is already being described as a fighter in the style of Sugar Ray Robinson and one of Britain's finest prospects. He has arrived in Los Angeles on this July night after four knock-out victories in his first four fights. He has a silver medal as a heavyweight from the 2001 world amateur championships in Belfast and a 10-fight contract from the BBC. What better place to display his talent than the house that Hugh Hefner built?
The mansion is on Charing Cross Road but there are no second-hand book shops and noisy Chinese restaurants on this street, just big houses built in the classic Beverly Hills style. That is to say, mock-Tudor, mock-Elizabethan, mock-colonial, mock-mock, all with the 'armed response' signs that denote both the promise of the local Bel Air security company and the paranoia of the area.
The mansion is mock-baronial, complete with zoo and waterfall, grotto and shady cypresses, cinema and hot tubs and a traffic sign on the driveway that reads 'Playmates at Play'. Tonight is a Playboy boxing night, the third time that Hef has opened his grounds to the sports television channel ESPN to host half a dozen bouts in the garden.

Top of the bill is a middleweight title fight - although the titles on offer are largely meaningless - but we will also have a chance to see David Haye strut his stuff at cruiserweight and watch a couple of women's bouts.
Haye is standing on the tennis court at the back of the mansion where his examination has been taking place. He is remarkably relaxed.
'It's definitely the strangest venue I've ever fought in but I'd rather be here than in some shoddy hall somewhere.'
He has had plenty of these in his amateur career, the worst, he thinks, in Poland - 'a real dive, like a school gym' - where there were holes in a slippery ring. In two weeks time he will be back in England, fighting in Bethnal Green.
'It'll be a bit of a contrast but I'm looking forward to it.'
Los Angeles is in the midst of one of those warm spells that seem to last from around early January to late December but heat up slightly around July and August. Haye has never fought in the open air before. He is excited tonight, he says, because Roy Jones, the WBA and WBC heavyweight champion, will be there. Jones and Evander Holyfield are the fighters he most admires. His attentive trainer and manager, Adam Booth, who looks more like a young Hollywood television producer than the traditional gnarled cornerman, moves back into view to prepare his charge for the fray, so I head off towards the ring.
The first person I pass is a short man with unfeasibly black hair dressed in one of those pleated safari suits favoured by the heavier members of The Sopranos. He is on his mobile. 'Hey,' he is saying, 'you'll never guess where I am! The Playboy Mansion! Yes! No kidding!' The guests are about to arrive for the night and the complimentary bar and the food stalls - hot dogs, tacos, hamburgers, popcorn - are already open.
The guest list is a mix of Hollywood and the aristocracy of American sport. James Caan, a regular, is here, as is Kato Kaelin who is famous, well, because he was living in O.J. Simpson's garage at the time of Nicole Simpson's murder and has since managed to parlay those 14 and a half minutes of fame into a minor television career. There is the athlete Marion Jones and former basketball star Julius 'Dr J' Erving; Britain's heavyweight hopeful is here, an immaculately turned out Audley Harrison; and current players from many of the country's basketball and football sides. There are enough members of the LA Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers here to launch a couple of franchises.

Since I am not exactly familiar with all of America's sporting heroes, I am fortunate that Bryant Horowitz, a young butler at the mansion, generously agrees to act as my spotter. With each new sighting, he delivers a fresh name. No spotter is necessary for Hef.
Here he comes with his six girlfriends. He is dressed in his trademark style, which is to say that he not only looks like the cat's pyjamas, he is wearing them, along with his silk crimson black-lined robe and a pair of sunglasses so dark I can't see whether or not he is winking. The girlfriends are dressed in - well, the nice in-house photographer, Elayne Lodge, has been taking pictures so you can probably see for yourself.
Hef, who has just thrown his seventy-seventh birthday party and is about to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine, is amiability itself.
'Boxing for me has always been a guilty pleasure,' he says. 'It's inconsistent with my general philosophy which is "make love, not war" - on every kind of level. I grew up with Joe Louis, who was an idol, and the first fight I ever listened to on the radio with my father was the first of the Schmeling fights.' (Louis lost to the German Max Schmeling in 1936, but beat him at the Yankee Stadium in New York in 1938.)
'I'm old enough to have been there with a lot of really exciting fighters,' says Hef, as people start to take their seats around the ring and a white peacock and an African crane perch on a neighbouring shrub to get a decent view. 'Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard and [Rocky] Marciano and, of course, Muhammad Ali. He's been here two or three times for promotional things. Lennox Lewis was here not too long ago but not boxing, hanging out for a Sunday afternoon. I have been an Oscar de la Hoya fan but I don't think that there's anyone at the moment who feeds my imagination.'
There are women on the bill tonight wearing boxing gloves rather than bunny ears and fluffy tails. What does he feel about that?
'I feel mixed about women's boxing,' he says. 'It's there as a novelty but I don't like to see women get hit, even when they're wearing gloves. If I see a female boxer really start to get hurt, I have a very different reaction to it and I think most people do.'

Would he throw in the towel on their behalf if they were getting too badly hurt? 'That opens up many possibilities,' he says, and ponders for a moment. 'Would I ever throw in the towel where a woman was concerned? I don't know.'
He puts up with a bit of joshing from an ESPN show host who asks him if he identifies with boxers because they all wear a robe, and did he ever think of getting, say, "Boom boom" embroidered on the back of his? He didn't.
The ESPN guy then tells Hef that he has thought up a fighting name for him: 'Hard Right Hef'. 'I like it,' says Hef politely.
The first fight is about to start and a Playmate is preparing to do the bunny-dip between the ropes and let us know that Round One is upon us. Teri (in pink), Lauren (in yellow) and Penelope (in green) will share the task. They get a bigger cheer than the boxers.
Waiting her turn is one of the women fighters, Jo Jo Wyman, tattooed, corn-row hairstyle, big smile. Her Mom and Dad, Don and Pat, have arrived from Las Vegas to see her.
'It's no big deal to me,' says Jo Jo of fighting here. 'But I usually fight at casinos on Indian reservations.'
A personal trainer and former kick-boxer, she has been a pro for five years. Don and Pat Wyman - 'we're constantly getting mixed up with Bill Wyman' - are very proud of her.
'The first kick-boxing fight, I couldn't look,' says Pat, whose niece was a bunny. She is pleased that her daughter is performing at Hef's mansion.
'It's wonderful of him to open up his home like this.'
The battles have commenced. Serious stuff. No jokes about rabbit punches for the ref. Monroe Denson Brooks, a middleweight from south LA, dispatches his opponent with the sounds of peacocks and spider-monkeys almost as loud as the post-round applause.
He says afterwards, gloves off, sweat still pouring, that he liked the setting: 'Fighting is like nature's call and the peacocks in the trees here - it's all nature. I feel like they've all come to see me.'

'No distractions,' he says. 'I didn't bring my girlfriend because I didn't want any distractions.'
Out of curiosity, I make a brief visit to the mansion's zoo where Genevieve Gawman, a model and part of the Playboy family, is sitting in front of one of the cages that houses the two spider monkeys, Pepe and Coco.
Genevieve says that Pepe likes stroking long hair. She is into animal rights, she says, and a vegan and is pretty fit herself, she adds, demonstrating flexed forearms, biceps and abs. There are squirrel monkeys there, too, and some other shifty little creatures that I can't identify. Agents, possibly?
Back past the ring and opposite the waterfall, Ivan Goldman, a columnist with The Ring and KO magazine, is sitting at a table drinking 12-year-old Scotch - which is only about six years younger than some of the Playmates who are now wandering around hand-in-hand with some of the sports stars.
Goldman says of Haye 'he looked good' in as much as you could tell in 54 seconds.
'The problem with British boxers is they don't move their heads and they don't move their feet,' he says. This would certainly seem to put them at a disadvantage. 'They've got balls, they've got heart but they're not tricky enough.'
He likened them to the English Redcoats in the French and Indian war of 1755, striding cheerfully into battle in formation and being picked off by a craftier enemy. What about Lennox Lewis, I ask. Well, he grew up in Canada, says Goldman.
We wonder if mermaids are going to appear in the grotto, something I am sure I read about somewhere, but there is no sign of them tonight. Then a woman without fluffy tail or bunny ears says that the bar is closing. The bar is closing! I'm not too bothered since I have to drive home and have been on soft stuff all night but I didn't realise that the bar ever closed at Hef's. I had imagined that there was a fountain dispensing Laphroaig from one jet and Moët from another if one could but find it. Time to go.
Safari Suit is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he finally found someone who did believe where he was. Or maybe he was trying to get a phone number off Coco or Pepe.
One day, maybe, David Haye will be a champ. Then Safari Suit and I will be able to tell whomever we can find at the end of a mobile phone that we were there that night at the Playboy Mansion, along with James Caan and the white peacock and the African crane and all those line-backers from Tampa Bay, when the world champion, David Haye, had his fastest ever professional victory. But will they believe us?

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