Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 | 6 p.m.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Anne V has never attended a boxing match, but she and 16 of her fellow SI models can now honestly say they've spent time in the ring in the Fight Capital of the World.
Anne V — her professional name, with the V standing for Vyalitsyna — was part of a group of 2012 swimsuit edition models who stopped at Caesars Palace on Thursday to promote the publication and provide a warm-up for Saturday’s celebration of Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy in Las Vegas.
The event was staged in the ring where Ali fought for the last time in Las Vegas. That bout occurred in 1980 at Caesars, which had kept the ring in storage.
“Just being in that ring was really amazing,” Anne V said. “I've never gone to a fight, but I’m a huge Muhammad Ali fan. He’s such a legend, such a cultural icon. How could you not love everything about him?”
Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins appeared in the ring with the models, backed by an enlarged poster of a December 1974 Sports Illustrator cover honoring Ali as the publication’s Sportsman of the Year. Ali appeared on the magazine's cover more than 35 times, second only to Michael Jordan as a cover subject for SI.
Models on hand included Kate Upton, who appears on this year's cover.
Ali, who fought seven times in Las Vegas, will be the main attraction again on Saturday during the Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala at the MGM Grand, a combination birthday celebration for Ali — who turned 70 last month — and fundraiser. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center, a cultural and educational facility in the boxer’s hometown of Louisville, Ky.
Billed as "the biggest birthday party anybody has ever seen" by Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Conventional and Visitors Authority, when plans for it were unveiled, the Power of Love Gala has drawn a guest list that includes Stevie Wonder, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Lenny Kravitz, Sean Combs, Anthony Hopkins, Jim Brown, Andre Agassi, Stefanie Graf, Sugar Ray Loenard and Evander Holyfield.
Ali defended his heavyweight title three times in Las Vegas, but his skills had deteriorated significantly by the time he faced Holmes at age 38. Ali was beaten badly and fought only one more time, losing to Trevor Berbick by decision in 1981.