Timeline: Fifty years of Las Vegas memories for Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali and Las Vegas have ties that go back more than 50 years. Here are some of the fighter's more memorable Vegas moments – both in and out of the ring.
- June 27, 1972: Ali, who had surrendered his world title during inactivity brought on by legal problems stemming from his refusal to be drafted into the U.S. Army, returns to Las Vegas as the North American Boxing Federation heavyweight champion. He knocks out Jerry Quarry in the seventh round at the Convention Center. Ali peppers Quarry with combinations and taunts him throughout the bout.
The King and The Greatest
- Feb. 2, 1973: Ali attends Elvis Presley's show at the Las Vegas Hilton. After the show, Ali is invited backstage and poses for photos with Elvis in a meeting of two of the most iconic entertainment figures of the 20th century. Presley presents Ali with a robe emblazoned in rhinestones on the back, "The People's Choice." The robe at the time is valued at $3,000. Ali presents Presley with a pair of autographed, red boxing gloves. The inscription to Elvis reads: "You are the Greatest." Ali does not wear the new robe for his upcoming bout with Joe Bugner in Las Vegas. He wears it instead for the first time on March 31, 1974, in San Diego against Kenny Norton. Ali loses the fight, suffers a broken jaw and never again wears the Elvis robe because he says it brought him bad luck. Nevertheless, Ali and Presley, two Dixie boys, remain close friends until Presley's death in 1977.
- Feb. 14, 1973: Ali takes a 12-round decision from Bugner at the Convention Center to successfully defend his North American title.
Ali, right, battles Ron Lyle
- May 16, 1975: Ali, who the previous year recaptured his world title with an upset victory over George Foreman in Zaire, knocks out Ron Lyle in the 11th round at the Convention Center to retain his crown. Ali falls behind on the judges' cards early but comes back to dominate the fight in later rounds.
- Feb. 15, 1978: Ali returns to Las Vegas to face Leon Spinks, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist who, to that point, had only seven professional bouts. Ali loses the fight and his world title via a 15-round decision at the Las Vegas Hilton Pavilion. Ali, who has defeated fellow past Olympic gold medalists Patterson, Foreman and Joe Frazier, does little training for the Spinks fight and falls behind by lying on the ropes and covering up. Unlike with Lyle and Foreman, Ali cannot rally to score a knockout against the upstart Spinks. He comes back seven months later, however, in New Orleans and defeats Spinks via a 15-round decision to win the world heavyweight title for an unprecedented third time.
- Nov. 9, 1978: Ali is among a crowd of 1,500 people who pay $500 a plate for the A Night with the Champ tribute dinner at Caesars Palace, honoring former longtime world heavyweight champion Joe Louis. The black-tie gala is a fundraiser for the Joe Louis Sports Foundation. Legendary Associated Press reporter Ed Schuyler Jr., covering the event, quotes a humbled Ali as saying: "He (Louis) is my idol – he's many people's idol."
- Jan. 14, 1999: Ali attends the weigh-in for then-heavyweight contender Mike Tyson, who is returning to the ring following a suspension after the June 28, 1997, incident where Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear during a title fight in Las Vegas. Ali poses with Tyson for news photographers and fans and converses with him. Two days later, Tyson knocks out Francois Botha in the fifth round at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
- 1999: The Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum opens on the Las Vegas Strip, with a wax likeness of Ali in his prime. It is one of the top sports exhibits at the facility and remains a popular attraction to this day.
- March 2000: Ali announces at his suite at the Mirage that a second biographical film of his life, "Ali," is being produced, starring Will Smith. The first film, "The Greatest," from 1977, starred Ali as himself.
- Nov. 8, 2002: Laila Ali, just as her father had done in the 1960s and '70s, unifies all world titles in her weight class by scoring an eighth-round TKO over IWBF and WIBA champion Valerie Mahfood at the Stratosphere Events Center, to capture all three belts. Laila Ali would go on to record a 24-0 pro record.
- November 2011: It is announced that Ali, who would turn 70 in January, would be honored with a celebration at the star-studded 16th annual Power of Love Gala on Feb. 18 at MGM Grand. The event is to raise money for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Muhammad Ali Center.
– Compiled by Ed Koch