Hugh Hefner, 73, sat ringside, flanked by two of his twentysomething girlfriends. "Did you see that knockout?" he asked.
A loaded question, considering the man making the inquiry and the location. Boxers, bunnies and B-listers bantered last Friday at the Playboy Mansion as Hefner played host to an evening of televised prize fighting. ESPN2 carried the bouts, marking the first time that a sports—if not sporting—event had been aired from the bucolic Holmby Hills, Calif., estate. None of the half-dozen bouts were title fights, but then, belts never have been a popular fashion item at Hef's house.
There were knockouts aplenty, though, of both the fistic and the feminine varieties. In the main event, cruiserweight Vassiliy Jirov knocked Esteban Pizarro cold with a second-round roundhouse to the jaw. Super-heavyweight Eric Esch—you know him as Butterbean—somehow used his 135-pound weight advantage to score a second-round TKO over heavyweight Bill Johnson.
But who was eyeing the fights? Hef's trio of playmates—Brande, Mandy and Sandy (the latter two are twins)—looked dandy. Bunnies pranced, canoodled and cavorted, among them women like Paulette Myers, a veteran of five Playboy special edition issues. "You may have seen me in the Wet 'n' Wild mag," said Myers. "I haven't been in the regular magazine yet. Hef says I'm still too skinny."
The by-invitation-only crowd was a panoply of dubious celebrity-dom: Darva Conger, Vern Troyer (Mini-Me), O.J. attorney Robert Shapiro, Dick Van Patten and even the guy who used to play Mr. Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show. "Go to her body, Franchesca! Go to her body!" actor Judd Nelson gamely implored distaff boxer Franchesca Alcantar from his second-row seat. "She's leaning in! Move to her body!" One can imagine Hefner's battle-fatigued neighbors hearing Nelson's cries from a distance and saying to themselves, Another night at the mansion.
It may seem odd that Hefner, the feudal lord of this Viagrarian society, would allow boxing to infringe on his haven of bliss, where flamingos and peacocks roam the grounds unfettered. (Hef keeps real bunnies as well but, ironically, they're caged.) True, there's the kinship of people who conduct their business in silk sleepwear, but what else does the original swinger have in common with these swingers?
"Boxing is my favorite sport, always has been," said Hefner. "We used to host matches back in Chicago [at the now-defunct Playboy Mansion]. When I was a boy, my dad took me to a Louis-Schmeling fight. I was hooked after that."
Hefner hedged, however, at the prospect of a return engagement. As the evening wore on, Mandy and Sandy had vacated their choice seats and returned to the manor house. "They find it a little, um, brutal," Hef said. "There's also the question of whether we can attract enough talent."
As he said this, Mia St. John, Playboy's November cover girl, was pummeling Alcantar, a former Miss Hawaiian Tropic, in the ring. St. John had entered the bout 16-0 while Alcantar had a 2-2 record. "Franchesca looks a little outclassed," said an onlooker. "She's only here because she looks good."