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Smacking It Down



The Hummer stretch limo has broken down at the Hooters in Chester, so Gidget Hilton's Wednesday night is running later than expected.

It's past midnight, but busted Hummer or not, she still must retrieve her silver Tercel (complete with rear spoiler) from a strip mall on Hull Street Road and cancel a late-night meeting with an Ultimate Fighting organizer. She finally settles in for a nightcap just after 1 a.m. at T.G.I. Friday's.

"Welcome to my life. How's my hair?" Hilton says as she smoothes her bleached locks. A ring with "Gidget" spelled out in cursive adorns her hand. She has new boobs and a white collared shirt unbuttoned far enough to "let them breathe."

Hilton is a wrestling promoter. She owns, oversees and takes the fall for all things related to XFW, the Richmond-based wrestling federation she started last year with her husband, Dwayne.

She was taking the Hummer to Hooters to drum up interest in XFW's next show, Feb. 9. The match will be crucial for Hilton because Richmond city officials raided the last one. XFW has been holding shows at the former Model Tobacco warehouse on Jefferson Davis Highway for a year now, but city officials recently shut down the operation, citing a host of code and building permit violations.

Hilton sips on a neon green cocktail the bartender has made especially for her. She requests cheese sticks, but the kitchen is closed.

"Who's back there? Tell them it's me," Hilton demands, even though she has never been to that Friday's before.

She sits among three purses containing two packs of Salem cigarettes, two cell phones and two driver's licenses, one current and one from 2004 with a picture that reveals a significantly heavier Hilton.

XFW features local talent, but also showcases World Wrestling Entertainment legends, retirees from the nationally televised professional organization. The night of the raid, a crowd of 600 fans lined up outside to see Greg "the Hammer" Valentine -- famous for finishing off his opponents with a flying elbow drop to the gut.

Hilton pulls a brown envelope from one overstuffed bag and shakes out a heap of glossy pictures of wrestlers, several from the raided event in January. There's "Beautiful" Bobby Eaton, Pat Tanaka, and tag team wrestlers Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson (also known as the Rock 'n' Roll Express) — all beefy men in their 50s, their arms around Hooters girls, drinking beers at Big Daddy's in Shockoe Bottom or lounging in the back of that old Hummer.

"Oh yeah, Jake the Snake," the bartender says, examining one of the pictures.

"You have to pretty much know somebody who knows somebody to get the kind of names we have," Hilton says.

One person it helps to know is Dave Hebner, part of the XFW family. He owns a gaming shop in the strip mall where Hilton has left her car tonight. He referees matches for XFW and helps with the booking, but he's famous for his time on WWE.

In 1988, he was scheduled to referee a match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. During that episode, his twin brother, Earl, kidnapped him, locked him in a closet and posed as Dave, throwing the match to the Giant even though Hogan clearly won. The brothers became infamous on the circuit ever after.

That blurry, theatrical element — scripting a kidnapping — is part of what makes wrestling unique in American entertainment. There's a performance aspect that draws participants to it, an escapism that ranks higher than a touchdown dance.

"In this business, some people just think if you're big and tall you can do the job," Hebner says. "You've got to be a good talker, too."

The talk is of paramount importance. In pro wrestling people use the term "kayfabe." It means staying in character, refusing to acknowledge that the ring isn't just a field for combat, but a stage.

Hilton doesn't get in the ring, but perhaps all this wrestle-mania gives her a chance to field an alter ego, too. Before moving to Richmond three years ago, she was a director for social services at a nursing home. She moved here to help a family member who had "fallen in with the wrong crowd," she says. In retrospect, the task was impossible, but at the time she thought she could save him. "I had to promote for that, too," she says. A picture of his gravesite is mixed in with the photos of the wrestlers.

On top of the promoting, Hilton has a full-time job keeping the books for a group of doctors in private practice. She says she wouldn't want to quit her day job even if XFW really took off. Her husband wrestles and a WWE contract is the dream of any self-respecting wrestler. In the meantime, though, Hilton promotes him by promoting XFW.

One of Hilton's glossies shows the stage at the old Model Tobacco building.

"Look, no one's got anything like this," she says. The photo shows an open warehouse with graffiti on the back walls. A silver curtain hangs between the backstage and a catwalk directly to the ring. A chain-link fence wraps around the ring on the floor.

"This is the fence," she says. "This is what separates us from them," a moat protecting the illusion.

But the fence was not enough for the show in January. Hilton had just picked up the wrestlers from the hotel for the match — in the Hummer, of course. They were pulling up to the Model Tobacco building around 7 p.m. The lot was packed and the line was out the door. Suddenly, Hilton saw two police cars pull up "on two wheels, practically."

Art Dahlberg, Richmond's building commissioner, says they didn't have a legitimate certificate of occupancy for a wrestling operation at the building. They also didn't have a business license and weren't paying taxes.

Dahlberg's staff was joined by firefighters, police officers, health inspectors — a multi-agency task force, not unlike those assembled to shut down crack houses for building code violations.

Hilton is irritated, but unfazed.

"They didn't have to do it the way they did it, but it happened the way it happened. They didn't do it just to be mean," she says.

Her job is not to win, but to promote.

The hour is getting late, and the bartender has stacked the stools and wiped down the tables. He's no longer amused by the low-cut shirt or pictures of wrestlers and for the third time asks Hilton to leave.

"Just getting my poop in a group," she says, shuffling pictures and papers and folders back into their respective bags.

It's unlikely the bartender will forget her anytime soon, just as there's no way a city raid will stop her efforts. She's already found a new location for next month's match at The Showplace in Mechanicsville.

She's calling it "XFW Raids the Showplace." S

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