GRAMMY Award-winning leading lady of country music, Reba McEntire returned for her sixth year as emcee, and Lee Greenwood opened the evening with a touching rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” in which a rare Bald Eagle was released into the room to the surprise of the audience. Billy Crystal, longtime friend of Muhammad Ali, made a special introduction of The Champ who walked on stage to a standing ovation.
With Muhammad Ali on stage, Academy-Award winning actress Halle Berry was presented with the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Entertainer Award, No. 1 ranked LPGA Champion Cristie Kerr received the Sports Achievement Award, Go Daddy CEO and Founder Bob Parsons received the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Entrepreneur Award, and former NBA and NFL owner Red McCombs received the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Humanitarian Award.
Following the awards the America Idol Top 11 Finalists took to the stage and wowed the room with a special Michael Jackson medley. The packed crowd was also treated to a host of performances under the direction of multiple GRAMMY Award-winning musical director David Foster including multi-platinum recording artist Rob Thomas, who performed hit songs including “3 A.M.,” and “Bright Lights,” Bret Michaels, who kept the audience rocking with his songs “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Nothing But A Good Time,” Lee Greenwood who sang “Go The Distance,” as well as 10-year old “America’s Got Talent” contestant Jackie Evancho and musical prodigy Derek Paravicini. Comedian Sinbad also entertained the crowd with jokes and an impromptu performance. GRAMMY Award-winning vocalist Kelly Clarkson closed the evening with hits including “Walk Away” and “My Life Would Suck Without You” in which they brought up all the women in the audience to sing together.
The black tie event also featured cocktails, a silent auction, an elegant dinner and an exciting live auction featuring one-of-a-kind luxury items. The live auction featured items such as dinner at Reba McEntire’s Beverly Hills, CA home which went for $800,000 – two bidders paid $400,000 each for a chance to dine with the country superstar, a dinner in Los Angeles with Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro which sold for $400,000, as well as a dinner with Bret Michaels which went for $200,000 to a lucky bidder. Go Daddy CEO and Celebrity Fight Night honoree, Bob Parsons, also made a generous donation of $1,000,000 to the organization in addition to purchasing more than $1,000,000 in auction items during the evening. Celebrity Fight Night XVII raised a total of $6.6 million benefiting the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, as well as several other worthy charities. Each year dozens of celebrity guests attend the event that has raised more than $70 million dollars in 17 years.
After Kevin Costner & Modern West teased the crowd early in the evening with a brief performance on the main stage, they kept the event going late into the night with a performance at the after-party.