LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The city of Louisville welcomed home its most beloved son Monday to kick off an international amateur boxing tournament that bears his name.
Slowly, Muhammad Ali rose, smiled and rang the ringside bell three times to signal the opening of the inaugural Muhammad Ali Cup International Amateur Boxing Challenge at the Commonwealth Convention Center.
Members of the 21 countries represented in the event marched into the arena bearing the flags of their home nations.
The event is expected to raise more than $1 million for a planned Ali museum and education center in Louisville and several USA Boxing youth programs. It also will help determine members of the U.S. team that will compete at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in October.
"We are proud to be here on this unique occasion - a boxing competition in the name of the greatest of the great boxers the world has ever produced," said Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan, the president of the International Amateur Boxing Association. "It is my wish and desire that this tournament should become an annual feature.
"For a long time, we have been thinking about having such a tournament. Unfortunately, it never became a reality. But the magic name of Muhammad Ali was responsible for making it possible to have this tournament in this beautiful city."
Nearly 100 boxers from more than 20 nations are to compete in the tournament, including the U.S. team's top-ranked boxers in 11 of 12 weight classes. The exception is lightweight, where the top-ranked boxer did not participate in the training camp.
Preliminary bouts are scheduled through Wednesday with the semifinals on Thursday and the championship bouts Friday. The week will be capped by a star-studded tribute to amateur boxing, featuring the first appearance of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield together since their June fight in which Tyson was disqualified for twice biting Holyfield on the ear.
The tribute will feature a mini concert by singer Natalie Cole; a reading of Ali's words by actor James Earl Jones; jokes by comedian and actor Jeff Foxworthy; and some lighthearted rounds of boxing, featuring the likes of Holyfield and Tyson taking on local celebrities, such as Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith and Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum.
There also will be three mini rounds of sparring with Ali and other boxing greats, with the cost of climbing into the ring starting at a donation of $50,000.