Now a mainstay of fundraising events in the Valley, this year the gala set a record with 1,300 people in attendance and raised more than $9.1 million Saturday at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in north Phoenix.
The money raised will go to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Institute, as well as other charities.
The 10,000-square-foot facility, established in 1997 and named after the former heavyweight boxing champion, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984, is on the campus of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
The progressive disorder of the brain can cause tremors, rigidity, poor posture and coordination, and difficulty performing voluntary movements.
Saturday’s Fight Night XVIII was a black-tie affair featuring stars from many walks of life — athletes, actors and comedians — mingling with Valley residents. Celebrities like Evander Holyfield, Billy Crystal, Bo Derek and Kurt Warner walked the red carpet.
They said curing Parkinson’s disease is a great cause to fight for and had high praise for the man who brought them out.
Actor Tom Hanks said Ali is a hero who is fighting the good fight.
“It’s a real delight to come out here and raise money for Parkinson’s and attend such a great show. It’s easy for me to say, ‘I’m there, let’s go,’ ” Hanks said. “It’s very easy to show up for something like this.”
Country-music star Reba McEntire emceed the event for the seventh consecutive year, and producer and musician David Foster returned for his 13th consecutive year as musical director.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Starkey Labs CEO and founder William Austin, and the founders of Discount Tire, Diane and Bruce Halle, were honored for their charity work.
As the evening kicked into gear, Ali’s wife, Lonnie, reminded everybody of the event’s goal.
“The real reason we’re here is Parkinson’s,” she said.
Jimmy Walker, founder and chairman of Celebrity Fight Night, said the honorees are selected not only for their success but for their philanthropic endeavors.
“This year’s award recipients are dedicated to giving back and serving,” Walker said. “Like the Scripture, ‘To whom much is given, much is to be expected,’ they don’t hesitate in helping others, and they make it a priority to do so.”
The event included a silent auction and musical performances by Rascal Flatts and actor and singer John Corbett.
Other performers included Miley Cyrus; Rita Wilson, Hanks’ wife; and Lionel Richie.
Phoenix resident Adele Ponce said Fight Night is one of the Valley’s greatest events. This was her second year in attendance. She said she has a close connection because her husband, Dr. Francisco Ponce, is a neurosurgeon at Barrow.
“Ali and the star power he brings to this event really makes a difference,” she said. “He is the champ and he inspires people.”
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