Grammy Award winning leading lady of country music Reba McEntire returned for her seventh year as emcee at the event which also celebrated Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday. The evening opened with the singing of the National Anthem in which a rare Bald Eagle was released into the room to the surprise of the audience, followed by a performance from John Corbett.
With Muhammad Ali on stage, NFL Pro Bowl Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, Starkey Labs CEO and Founder Bill Austin and philanthropists and founders of Discount Tire Diane & Bruce Halle were honored with the 2012 Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night Awards. Previous Celebrity Fight Night honoree Bob Parsons, Founder and Executive Chairman of Go Daddy, also kicked off the evening with a special $1 million donation.
Following the awards guests were treated to a host of performances under the direction of multiple Grammy Award winning musical director David Foster including Grammy Award winning country group Rascal Flatts, who performed songs including “Fast Cars and Freedom,” “Banjo,” and “Life is a Highway,” Miley Cyrus who sang a cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” as well as Rita Wilson who sang songs from her new album AM/FM “Come See About Me” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” Additional performances included former American Idol finalist Michael Johns and 11-year old “America’s Got Talent” contestant Jackie Evancho. Comedian Sinbad also entertained the crowd with jokes and an impromptu performance. Grammy Award winning recording artist Lionel Richie closed the evening with hits including “Brick House,” “All Night Long,” “Hello” and “Dancing on the Ceiling” in which Rascal Flatts joined Richie on stage. The evening concluded with a special cake presentation from “Cake Boss” for Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday.
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, with the addition of special guests Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, which went for $1,800,000 – three bidders paid $600,000 each for a chance to dine with the superstars and a vacation in Tuscany and dinner with Andrea Bocelli which sold for $1,400,000. Celebrity Fight Night XVIII raised a total of $9.1 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 nearly $80 million dollars in 18 years.
Additional celebrity guests included Laila Ali, Lonnie Ali, Jared Allen, Billy Blanks, Mauro Castano, Billy Crystal, Bo Derek, Jason Derulo, Gus Farwell, Roy Firestone, Jay Glazer, Tony Hawk, Liam Hemsworth, Tim Hightower, Evander Holyfield, Kris Kristofferson, Meadowlark Lemon, Nancy Lieberman, Harvey Mackay, Kyle Massey, Chris Massey, Sam Moore, Frankie Muniz, Lute Olson, Melissa Peterman, Kevin Sorbo, Jordin Sparks, Verne Troyer, Ben Vereen, Mayra Veronica, Kurt Warner, Beanie Wells, Dave Winfield and many more.