Celebrity Fight Night’s 1-2 Punch

The Phoenix phenomenon that is Celebrity Fight Night is a year in the making. Actually, that’s not true: It’s more than a year in the making. Behind its success are two dedicated men – Jimmy Walker and Sean Currie – whose mutual goal is to produce an annual event of the highest entertaining standard, while raising money for charity.


Executive Director Sean Currie, who has been with the organization for 15 years, says the successful gala that has grossed more than $80 million over 19 years isn’t something you just throw together. In fact, even though Fight Night 2013 is March 23, he’s already begun work on the 2014 event.


For Currie, the satisfaction comes from creating an experience that is unique. It’s pulling together a combination of celebrities that may never perform together again. And it’s watching celebrities and guests open their hearts to make a difference.


About Celebrity Fight Night

Celebrity Fight Night is the brainchild of founder Jimmy Walker. As Walker tells it, he called former Phoenix Suns player Charles Barkley in 1994 and asked him to put on boxing gloves for a first-time charity event. “The next thing I knew,” says Walker, “Dan Majerle had joined Barkley and they fought in a ring wearing oversized boxing gloves.”


That first year benefited Michael Carbajal’s Ninth Street Gym.


Growing by leaps and bounds from there, Celebrity Fight Night is now in its 19th year. By the third year, the most famous boxer in the world, Muhammad Ali, had become the featured guest. Since then, in addition to other charities – sometimes those of the guest celebrities – the biggest beneficiary of the evening has been the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.


Boxing is no longer on the evening’s agenda, an array of superstar performers taking the stage instead. Barry Manilow was the first entertainer, says Walker. “He played the piano in the ballroom at the Ritz-Carlton, Phoenix. Barry told the crowd it was the smallest venue in which he had performed as a professional.”


Eight-time Celebrity Fight Night emcee Reba McEntire


Since then, an equally stellar list of performers has come on board: Reba McEntire is in her eighth year as emcee. Each year she donates a dinner for four in her Beverly Hills home. “She’s raised millions for us,” Currie says. Last year, the evening sold three times for $600,000 each.


An unlikely duo produced by Celebrity Fight Night:

Founder Jimmy Walker and actor Tom Hanks


David Foster, 16-time Grammy winner, has been the musical director since the sixth annual event. Guests have been treated to diverse entertainment that includes Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Trisha Yearwood, Lionel Richie, Tom Hanks and more.



Andrea Bocelli                                            Jennifer Lopez


This year’s evening is no exception. Not one, but two, genuine superstars are on board: Jennifer Lopez makes a first-time appearance as does Andrea Bocelli.


Bringing celebs on board

Connecting with the celebrities is somewhat calculated, somewhat serendipitous. Walker met Ali at a dinner for Barrow and then didn’t see him again for seven or eight years. When Ali came to Barrow for treatment for Parkinson’s disease, Walker got in touch with him with the idea for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.


Walker was with Valley sports mogul Jerry Colangelo in New York City and encountered Andrea Bocelli in an elevator at the Ritz-Carlton. He introduced himself and mentioned a mutual friend, David Foster. Of course, he also told him about Celebrity Fight Night.


“Muhammad Ali has been my hero my whole life,” Bocelli responded.


The next week, Bocelli performed in the Valley, and Walker took him to Ali’s home, where the Italian tenor sang for “The Greatest.”


“I met Jennifer Lopez at a Clive Davis party,” Walker says. “I met David Foster at the Grammy Awards."


Currie, who Walker says does a superb job, says he crisscrosses the country, attending other charity events, meeting with celebrities, publicists and managers.


“We expect to live up to the highest standards for elegance and glamour,” Currie says. “People are donating significant dollar amounts. We want to give back as much as we can.”


Celebrity Fight Night XIX is March 23 at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, where 1,200 to 1,250 guests will enjoy dinner and top-notch entertainment.


That’s a Saturday. Currie says he’ll take Sunday off. But Monday? He and his team are right back at it. For 2014, there will be hotel space to reserve, security staff to hire, materials to print, PR to orchestrate and celebrities to confirm. And somebody needs to follow up on the auction items, write thank-you notes and schedule dinner with Reba.



 At top, Celebrity Fight Night Executive Director Sean Currie with Muhammad Ali

Text by Cindy Miller





About admin

More in: Noteworthy

From Frontdoors Magazine

Back to Top