Twenty-seven years ago, fundraiser Celebrity Fight Night was hatched in Arizona when then-Phoenix Suns player Charles Barkley climbed into a boxing ring at The Ritz Carlton to spar with boxing champion Michael Carbajal with the humorous use of oversized-boxing gloves. Marking a momentous change, the celebrity-filled event has now merged with Gateway for Cancer Research to focus on eventually delivering a knockout blow to cancer.
Gateway for Cancer Research has raised over $90 million to give funding to Phase I and Phase II cancer clinical trials that are often under-funded. Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, vice-chair at Gateway for Cancer Research and Gateway Celebrity Fight Night said, “Nearly everyone is eventually touched by cancer, either personally or through loved ones, and it’s our goal—with the support of Celebrity Fight Night and their amazing team–to ensure that every patient and family member gets the support they need until the day that we no longer fear a cancer diagnosis.”
Richard Stephenson added, “I founded Gateway for Cancer Research for personal reasons, after my mother died unnecessarily after being denied the kind of life-saving treatment that this foundation prioritizes.” He is also the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Celebrity Fight Night Founder, Jimmy Walker was honored during the evening as he gave a humble and heartfelt thank you for everyone’s support throughout the years and is happy to see the Stephensons take on the fundraising efforts through Gateway Celebrity Fight Night. He also announced he is now focusing his efforts on programs dealing with substance abuse recovery after the tragic death of his son who battled for years. As he moves on from Celebrity Fight Night, he remains a committed friend and advocate to the organization he founded.
Actor and Television Host, Cameron Mathison was the recipient of the first Mary Brown Stephenson Award which commends his own fight against cancer and raising cancer awareness. The award is named after Richard Stephenson’s mother who lost her own battle with cancer.
Executive Director of Gateway Celebrity Fight Night, Sean Currie actively worked the room during the early part of the live auction. He then turned it over to “auction-tainer” Trey Morris, who expertly auctioned off everything from exotic trips and dinner with Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Steve Martin to the very dress that Reba McEntire was wearing onstage that night. If you had bid $110,000; the dress would have been yours!
The inaugural Gateway Celebrity Fight Night raised more than $5 million after a two-year hiatus from holding a live event. Attendees were clearly anxious to return to the beloved in-person gala at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, where the event has taken place for many years. The theme of this year’s gala event was “Stardust Dreams” and the entire ballroom shimmered in purple and pink while hundreds of guests dined and enjoyed the musical entertainment.
The evening kicked off with American Idol alum Vonzell Solomon, who sang an inspiring rendition of the national anthem. “The Voice” alum Tony Vincent turned up the heat with a fun group of dancers that spilled off the stage and out into every part of the ballroom to continue the performance.
Sixteen-time Grammy winner, David Foster returned as musical director and country superstar and actress Reba McEntire reprised her role as the event’s longtime emcee. Entertainer CeeLo Green sent the energy level through the roof and nearly brought the house down from the moment he hit the stage early in the evening’s festivities.
Actress and comedian Melissa Peterman repeatedly stole the spotlight during the event, often poking fun at her lack of singing skills while encouraging the crowd to bid during the live auction. Both McEntire and Peterman currently appear on CBS’s “Young Sheldon.” They’re fantastically funny, and it’s clear why these two ladies frequently work together.
The musical acts at Gateway Celebrity Fight Night filled just about every musical niche. The Tenors, London Essentials, Michael Bolton, Reba McEntire, Matt Mauser, Tony Orlando (yes, that Tony Orlando) and the Valley’s own beloved Jordin Sparks kept the music going. Headlining musical act Pitbull rocked the room until after midnight with all his chart-topping hits. He also brought home the importance of Gateway for Cancer Research’s work when revealing that his own family had been hit heavily by cancer, and he is all in for the continued fight against the disease.
Event attendees also included actress Bo Derek, former Philadelphia Eagles player Seth Green, Mike Steele and Stacey Coote of the Steele Family Foundation, news and entertainment correspondent Alicia Quarles, former Green Bay Packers wide receiver and reality TV star, Dale Moss, actor Kevin Sorbo and former Phoenix Suns players Cedric Ceballos and Tom Chambers.