The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art is switching gears over the summer, from paintings and sculptures to an exhibition of memorabilia and memories entitled "I Am The Greatest: Muhammad Ali."
The sports legend's last boxing match in Las Vegas was in 1980, when he came out of retirement to take on Larry Holmes.
“Because I'm the only man in history of boxing who's had a chance to go for four times,” Ali told assembled cameras and microphones in the days leading up to the fight. “No man has ever had a chance. History will probably never produce another man who will get a chance to go a fourth time. Because they never went three. Why are we going to the moon? Because it's there.”
“The conviction that he gave in his training is really what he took throughout his life,” says MGM Art Collection Director Tarissa Tiberti. “And that's why he was such an incredible champion and fighter.”
The exhibit at the Bellagio includes displays from throughout Ali's life.
“We really wanted to show him as a humanitarian, as a person, as an activist and obviously highlighting his amazing sports career,” says Tiberti.
That includes his beginnings as Cassius Clay, taking up boxing after his bike was stolen when he was 12. At the age of 18, he won a gold medal at 1960 Olympics in Rome.
He became more controversial in 1964 by joining the Nation of Islam and changing his name to Muhammad Ali.
“And then there's the issues with Vietnam and him not wanting to go into the draft because of his religious beliefs,” continues Tiberti. “And he lost a good four years of his boxing career.”
Ali was convicted for willful refusal to submit to induction into the Armed Forces, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. His licenses to fight were stripped, though later restored. Ultimately the United States Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971.
By 1975 Ali returned to Las Vegas to play himself in a biopic called "The Greatest."
“Making a movie is organized bedlam,” News 3 reporter Bruce Cole told viewers. “Add Muhammad Ali to it, and you've got organized mayhem.”
“I'm doing pretty good,” boasted Ali. “They tell me that when you act yourself that's the hardest thing in the movies, and I'm doing it perfectly. So every other character should be easy. I might have a good career at this. We're going real good. I predict we'll outsell ‘Jaws,’ we'll outsell ‘The Godfather.’ We'll outsell ‘Rocky’ and everything on the screen.”
“You're gonna outsell ‘Jaws’?” responded Cole. “What are ya gonna call it, ‘Mouth’?”
“Well, who are you ... the local Cosell?,” asked Ali, tousling the reporter.
“No, but I am Jewish,” said Cole with a laugh.
Another part of the exhibit is a bejeweled robe with a Las Vegas tie-in.
“A gift from Elvis,” explains Tiberti. “He was a fan of Ali. They were friends. And he made him this robe and there's actually the receipt from it. However, Ali wore and he lost the fight, so he since did not wear it again.”
But perhaps more than anything else, Ali was known for his commanding, mischievous presence in front of the cameras.
“It will be no contest when I meet Holmes,” he told reporters in 1980. “No match. Totally superior! Totally supreme. Jabbing and moving. Sliding and gliding. Dancing to wear him out. His behind shall be mine by round nine!”
Muhammad Ali passed away just over a year ago at age 74. The Bellagio exhibit "I Am The Greatest" runs through September.