Friday, Nov. 4, 2011 | 10:58 a.m.
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It promises to be one of the largest “knockout” galas and all-star salutes ever presented to a legendary sports superstar. Muhammad Ali will be honored here on President’s Day Weekend at MGM Grand Garden Arena, the site of some of the world’s best boxing bouts. Manny Pacquiao fights there next weekend, and Floyd Mayweather Jr. is set there for May 5.
Save-the-date notices were mailed this week for the annual Keep Memory Alive Power of Love gala announcing that the organization will celebrate the 70th birthday of the fighter Feb. 18. We broke the news of this event two weeks via Twitter. Keep Memory Alive is the fundraising arm of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, and the notice states that proceeds raised that night will benefit the medical facility and Ali’s nonprofit center in his birthplace of Louisville, Ky., for research and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.
Prior Keep Memory Alive galas have been held at the Bellagio and starred Siegfried & Roy, Barry Manilow and other entertainers. Ali has attended several galas. The advance notice promises that MGM Grand Garden Arena will host the evening of auctions, exquisite food from celebrity chefs and a concert that will “knock you out”:
“This undisputed heavyweight event will be an evening to help raise funds plus awareness for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and to honor and celebrate Muhammad Ali -- an icon of respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and spirituality -- for his 70th birthday.” (His birth date is Jan. 17.)
Meantime, my longtime photographer pal Michael Brennan has teamed up with Ali and the Artworks Gallery in Los Angeles for a new exhibit of Mickey’s iconic photos. The highlight is his 1977 shots of Ali in training for his come-from-behind victory over Earnie Shavers at Madison Square Garden.
“The rare close-up captures the fighter’s vitality and determination,” Mickey said. His portrait will then be inducted into the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., as part of its permanent collection. Six other Ali images will be on display as of next Thursday through to his Jan. 17 birthday.
Ali, nicknamed “The Greatest,” was crowned Sportsman of the Century in 1999 by Sports Illustrated, and his unique fighting style, which he described as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and also introduced the Ali Shuffle and the Rope-a-Dope, won him the world heavyweight champion title three times.
In his amazing career, he fought 61 bouts; he had 56 wins, of which 37 were by KO. He lost only five times. In boxing circles to this day, his victories over Sonny Liston, “Smokin’ ” Joe Frazier in The Thrilla in Manila and George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle are still the respected and admired talk of the sport. During the “Golden Age of Heavyweight Boxing,” Ali defeated every top heavyweight fighter and was named Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine more times than any other boxer.
Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984 and has remained active in retirement. He personally asked Will Smith to play him in the 2001 biographical “Ali,” which earned Will and Jon Voight Academy Award nominations. Former President George W. Bush, a supporter of our Lou Ruvo Brain Center, presented Ali with the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2005.
Expect names of VIPs, stars and athletes attending -- and the headline entertainers for the concert -- to be announced before year’s end. I know the names of the four celebrity chefs who will cater the extraordinary gala dinner, but for now I have to respect the decision for that to be revealed later.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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