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"The Fight of the Century" lives up to its billing1971 Muhammad Ali Fight Worn Gloves from First Joe Frazier Bout. They had fifty-seven professional bouts between them, each and every one a victory, all but nine by way of knockout. Both fighters owned a legitimate claim to the Heavyweight Championship of the World, though only Frazier held the title officially, Ali's reign ended not by combat but by his opposition to it. This refusal to enter the Vietnam draft had established Muhammad Ali as the most polarizing figure in American sports, fueling an antipathy within a segment of the American populace unseen since the reign of Jack Johnson. Others hailed Ali's principled stand, drawing a stark line between the two camps' supporters. Those who supported the Vietnam War and the failing cause of racial segregation stood with the reigning Champion, while the anti-war crowd, and those who favored the Civil Rights movement, saw Ali as their athletic standard bearer. On one point both sides could agree: this was far more than a simple boxing match.
Each combatant was guaranteed $2.5 million for the bout, a record purse that lent perspective to the enormity of the contest. The fight sold out a month before the event with ringside seats commanding a record $150, with even Frank Sinatra unable to get his hands on one. And so Old Blue Eyes was issued one of the seven hundred working press credentials issued at Madison Square Garden, taking photos for Life Magazine in order to get close to the action. Silver screen star Burt Lancaster worked the mic as a fight commentator. Celebrated sports artist LeRoy Neiman sketched the fight at ringside. The bout was quite literally the most star-studded event in Big Apple sports history.
It was Muhammad Ali who dominated the early rounds, showcasing the deft footwork and pumping jab that had become his trademark. Frazier stalked the elusive former Champion looking to uncork the devastating left hook that had spelled doom for many of his earlier victims, the classic foil of puncher to Ali's boxer. Slowly the tide began to turn, the frenetic pace more typical of a middleweight battle and Frazier's sledgehammer blows exposing the ring rust of the former Champion. Ali continued to paw at Frazier's face, but the answers came with far more punishing authority, and in the late rounds it was evident that only a knockout could salvage the night for the Louisville Lip.
And in the fifteenth, those rooting for a knockout nearly got their wish, but it was Ali who was sent to the canvas, a crushing left hook at 2:34 of round fifteen that served as the exclamation point to Frazier's dominating victory. All three judges declared Frazier the victor, setting the stage for the 1974 rematch at the Garden and the historic finale to the trilogy at Manila in 1975.
Presented are the most significant boxing gloves to reach the hobby's auction block since those worn by Ali to claim his first World Championship from Sonny Liston in 1964 drew a final bid of $836,500 in the February 2014 Heritage "Platinum Night" Auction in New York City. Like those gloves, these derive from the personal collection of Ali's renowned trainer Angelo Dundee, accompanied by his letter of provenance that reads,
"To whom it may concern:
The Ali-Frazier gloves have been in my family's possession from the time I cut them off Ali's hands. My wife and son brought them home from New York the day after the fight. I labeled the gloves inside the laces."
[signed] Angelo Dundee."
Each Everlast glove exhibits solid wear from the historic contest with notations at the sweat-stained interior reading, "MA 1, AD, Ali-Frazier 3-8-71 MSG." Stamping from the "New York State Athletic Commission" is enhanced by the date and initials written by the inspector. A later black sharpie signature from Dundee completes the text.
It should be noted that the fight contracts assigned ownership of both pairs of gloves from this bout to promoter Jerry Perenchio, a fact that concerned some collectors when this Ali pair debuted in the hobby market. Leading boxing collectibles expert Craig Hamilton reached out to Perenchio in 2012, and a copy of their correspondence is included in this lot. Perenchio confirmed that he had failed to acquire the gloves, writing, "I wish I had been smart enough to claim them myself but I goofed."
This first professional loss for Muhammad Ali gave birth to the narrative that the former Champion was now a "has been" who should have remained in exile from the sport, setting the stage for what may be his most celebrated victory against the heavily-favored George Foreman in Zaire. Though Ali would publicly decry the loss as the "White Man's Decision," he privately acknowledged the legitimacy of Frazier's victory, setting a course for his own redefinition from an arrogant invincible to resilient three-time Champion of the World. Letter of provenance from Angelo Dundee. Full LOA from PSA/DNA (for Dundee letter). Full LOA from James Spence Authentication (for Dundee letter). LOA from Craig Hamilton / JO Sports.
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