Muhammad Ali turned 70 years old last month. It’s a feat especially worth the grandest of celebrations in the wake of the tragic death of Whitney Houston and the recent passing of Muhammad’s famed rival, Joe Frazier.
And MGM is pulling all out the stops.
The Ali bash is the main course in the 16th annual Power of Love Gala, which raises funds in support of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and will also raise funds for the Muhammad Ali Center. It will take place this Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The event will honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Ali with a lineup of celebrities on hand to be a part of an epic birthday party for the boxing icon.
More than 1,800 guests are expected to attend with an A-list the likes of Lenny Kravitz, P-Diddy, LL Cool J, Sammy Hagar, Cee Lo Green, Slash, and many others from the music world.
From the world of sports there’s Jim Brown, Andre Agassi, Randy Couture, Steffi Graf and David Beckham to name a few.
Also expected to attend are Anthony Hopkins, James Gandolfini, Chazz Palminteri, Steve Schirripa, David Copperfield, Terrance Howard, along with Siegfried and Roy. And, of course, the boxing list is awesome – Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon Spinks, Roberto Duran, Ken Norton and Tommy Hearns among the notables.
Sadly, Ali’s long time trainer and friend, Angelo Dundee, who passed away just weeks ago, will miss the festivities but we can expect to see one of the former champ’s closest and most trusted advisors Gene Kilroy, who delivered Dundee’s eulogy in Florida.
In fact, this has become such a star studded event that both ABC and ESPN will be airing a special "Ali 70th from Vegas" broadcast the following week.
Bottom line: Though the main goal is to raise awareness and funds to help advance the progress for better treatment and future cures for many neurodegenerative diseases, this is also a special opportunity to pay tribute to the man born Cassius Clay, but who will always be remembered as the great Muhammad Ali.
It is only fitting that "Greatest in the World" be honored here in Las Vegas which has become the fight capital of the world with his help. Many of Ali’s greatest triumphs and tribulations took place right here.
His very first fight in Las Vegas took place at age 19, well before he was even old enough to gamble, Ali won his seventh professional bout by decision against Duke Sabedong back in 1961. Throughout his 20 year boxing career which came to an end in 1981, Ali and Vegas had a very special bond.
Even Ali’s first live network televised bout in May 1975 when he defended the title he had just won after defeating both Joe Frazier and George Foreman took place right here in Las Vegas. It was only the fourth time a heavyweight title fight was being aired live on TV in the preceding decade and Ali went on to defeat Ron Lyle by TKO in the 11th round.
I’m sure we can also all remember his fight with Larry Holmes, his former sparring partner and undefeated at the time as WBC heavyweight title holder.
Ali had just become the first boxer to ever win the heavyweight championship of the world three separate times but rather than retire, when his personal physician Ferdie Pacheco had concerns about his health, Ali went on to prove to the Nevada Athletic Commission that he was well enough to fight.
That night Holmes defeated Ali with many believing that the challenger didn’t want to punish his former mentor, but those close to the situation say otherwise. Few would no better than Kilroy who once said, "All that talk about Larry Holmes that said he took it easy on him, that’s bull. Larry Holmes tried to kill him. He was scared to death the first three rounds. He thought Ali was holding back, and then he found out Ali had nothing."
Regardless, it was just one of the many memories that Ali gave boxing fans around the globe that took place in our city. Whether you are or were a fan of Ali’s like I was or one of his many detractors, few can argue that he has done more for both boxing and Las Vegas.
The fact that his 70th birthday bash will once again attract all this attention is further proof that his star shines as bright today as it ever has.
Whether or not Ali was actually the "Greatest of All Time" may be a subject boxing fans will debate for decades to come. But there is no debate as to who is boxing’s greatest showman. He was able to captivate an audience like few before or after him ever have and he did so on the grandest of stages, Las Vegas.
So on Saturday night, we get the rare opportunity as a city to thank, pay tribute, and honor one of the most gifted athletes and celebrities to walk the Strip. And simultaneously, raise some much needed money for a first-rate cause.
(Vegas Runner is a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, who has been featured on CNBC/ESPN and currently holds the record for "Most Units Won" in a single year at the Sports Monitor. Follow VR on Twitter @vegasrunner and at Pregame.com.)
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