Timeline: Fifty years of Las Vegas memories for Muhammad Ali

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 1961: To promote his upcoming fight with Hawaiian Duke Sabedong at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, does a radio promotion that will forever change the path of his career. Also appearing on that radio show is flamboyant professional wrestler Gorgeous George, promoting his upcoming main event match at the Convention Center. The arrogant, long-haired blonde wrestler boasts of his superior ring talent and proclaims: "I am the greatest wrestler in the world." Ali decides to develop a similar cocky ring persona that becomes his trademark, including his boast that "I am the greatest of all time!" Ali later attends the Las Vegas wrestling show as George's guest.
  • June 26, 1961: A year after winning an Olympic gold medal, Clay wins a 10-round decision over Sabedong in his seventh professional fight.
  • Ali with manager Angelo Dundee in 1966

  • Nov. 22, 1965: Fresh off winning the world heavyweight title from Sonny Liston and successfully defending it against Liston, Ali returns to Las Vegas to defend his title against another former champ, Floyd Patterson. Although Clay has changed his name to Ali, many people, including Patterson, still call him by his given name, angering the champ. Ali knocks out Patterson in the 12th round at the Convention Center. He dances throughout the fight, punches Patterson at will and taunts Patterson by calling him an "Uncle Tom." Ali is referring to how Patterson, a black man, is the fighter much of the white establishment wants as world champion – so much so that Frank Sinatra, on the morning of the fight, invites Patterson to his hotel room to tell him that much of America is rooting for the former champ to silence the Louisville Lip and knock him out.


  • 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."


  • July 31, 1980: The Nevada Athletic Commission, which previously had ordered Ali to undergo a complete physical in Las Vegas amid rumors he has brain and kidney damage, instead votes to accept the medical findings of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota that he is physically fit to fight. The decision paves the way for approval of Ali to come out of retirement and fight then-world champion Larry Holmes on Oct. 2 at Caesars Palace.
  • Aug. 7, 1980: Ali, sporting a thick black mustache and musingly calling himself "Dark Gable," arrives at McCarran International Airport on the same flight with Holmes. As usual, Ali wins the war of words at a kickoff news conference, telling Holmes he is Holmes' master. By the time Ali returns for his first Las Vegas training session a month later, his mustache has been shaved off, and he tells fans and the news media to expect to see the Ali of old during the fight.
  • Larry Holmes rocks Muhammad Ali

  • Oct. 2, 1980: Holmes, a former sparring partner of Ali, pummels Ali for 10 rounds, and Ali is unable to answer the bell for the 11th round at Caesars Palace.
  • Dec. 29, 1980: Based on Ali's poor performance in the Holmes fight and concerns that further ring activity could cause permanent damage, the Nevada Athletic Commission holds a hearing in Las Vegas to revoke his boxing license. After several hours of testimony, the hearing is halted when Ali and his attorneys decide to surrender the license. This paves the way for him to fight in a country willing to issue him a boxing license. Ali, about a month short of his 40th birthday, fights for the last time in December 1981 in the Bahamas, losing a 15-round decision to Trevor Berbick.
  • April 17, 1981: Ali comes to Las Vegas at the request of heavyweight legend Joe Louis' family to serve as a pallbearer for Louis, who had died five days earlier. The funeral, held in a boxing ring at the Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion, draws about 1,000 mourners. Ali, before the services, tells reporters: "I used to tease Joe Louis by reminding him that I was the greatest of all time. But Joe Louis was the greatest heavyweight fighter ever."


  • 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