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    The most feared man in boxing surrenders his title to the underdog Muhammad Ali

    1964 Sonny Liston Fight Worn Gloves from First Cassius Clay Bout. "I won't lie-I was scared," the newly-crowned Heavyweight Champ would admit during a rare bout of post-fight humility. "It frightened me, just knowing how hard he hit. But I didn't have no choice but to go out and fight."

    Clay had been at ringside for Liston's first title defense on July 22, 1963, the rematch guaranteed in the contract that brought the terrifying slugger into the ring to meet Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson ten months earlier at Comiskey Park. Again, Patterson was unable to survive the first round, battered to the canvas of the Las Vegas Convention Center three times by Liston's sledgehammer blows, the final time for good. It was Liston's third consecutive first round knockout; in his previous seven fights, only one victim had survived past three.

    And so, when the 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist was named as the next opponent of Sonny Liston, few doubted that this dominating trend would be continued. Clay was undoubtedly skilled in the sweet science, said the prognosticators, but the foregone conclusion was a matter of simple physics and biology. The force created by Liston's blows would break any man, and Clay would eventually fall like the rest. Even the sportswriters most generous to the challenger took on a gloomy tone. New York World-Telegram boxing man Lester Bromberg: "It will last longer than the Liston/Patterson fight-almost the entire first round." Forty-three of forty-six sportswriters picked Liston to continue his reign.

    The action began predictably as the bell sounded to begin the first round of the February 25, 1964 bout at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Liston charging like a bull straight for the challenger, and Clay ably playing the matador in response. Liston appeared awkward as his murderous swings found nothing but air, Clay circling clockwise to avoid the Champion's notorious left hook, favoring the jab but pressing the advantage with solid combinations when Liston was exposed.

    Liston hurt Clay in the second round but failed to build upon that foundation, and as the fight entered the third it became clear that it was the Champion who was getting the worst of the exchanges. Liston's right eye began to swell and subsequently opened a wound that would take eight post-fight stitches to close.

    The greatest controversy of the bout came in the fourth round, however, with Clay returning to his stool to complain that his eyes were burning. His legendary trainer Angelo Dundee recalled the scene on an NBC special twenty-five years later: "He said, 'cut the gloves off. I want to prove to the world there's dirty work afoot.' And I said, 'whoa, whoa, back up baby. C'mon now, this is for the title, this is the big apple. What are you doing? Sit down!' So I get him down, I get the sponge and I pour the water into his eyes trying to cleanse whatever's there, but before I did that I put my pinkie in his eye and I put it into my eye. It burned like hell. There was something caustic in both eyes."

    While many fight experts hypothesized that a substance applied to Liston's cheek by cutman Joe Pollino had inadvertently caused the irritation, reporter Jack McKinney alleged years later that Pollino had confessed to him that Liston had instructed him to rub an astringent compound on his gloves prior to the fourth. For Clay, there was little choice but to endure, and Dundee sent his fighter back into the ring with a single syllable of advice: "Run!"

    Clay's vision slowly cleared and the hunted once again became the hunter as the challenger landed combinations at will. "I got back to my stool at the end of the sixth round," Clay would later report, "and under me I could hear the press like they had gone wild. I twisted round and hollered down at the reporters, 'I'm gonna upset the world!'"

    A few moments later, his prophecy was realized. Across the ring, Liston had spit out his mouth guard, becoming the first Heavyweight Champion since 1919 to quit on his stool.

    Just one year after the gloves worn by the brash, young Cassius Clay in this historic bout commanded a winning bid of $836,500 in the Heritage February 2014 Platinum Night auction, we proudly present the corresponding pair, the famous "Tiger Balm" gloves worn during the final moments of Sonny Liston's Heavyweight Championship reign.

    The eight-ounce "Sammy Frager" model gloves perfectly match photography from that incredible night in southern Florida, with surface loss to the leather at the wristbands corresponding exactly to the tape that secured them. Each is notated and signed at interior wrist, "Sonny Liston Pep Barone," the latter a former Liston manager who remained close to the fighter subsequent to his employment. Liston's advisor John Nilon spoke of Barone during his testimony before the Senate Anti-Trust and Monopoly Subcommittee later that year as they investigated allegations of impropriety, saying, "Sonny thinks an awful lot of Mr. Barone. He thinks Pep Barone's good luck."

    Chappie Roberts, a Liston second for the fight, took possession of the gloves after they were cut from Liston's hands. Roberts later passed the gloves to his good friend Frank Sivo in appreciation of his assistance and support, and he has carefully preserved them until November 2014 when they were consigned to Heritage. The details of the gloves' provenance, and a thorough examination of its physical characteristics, are supplied in a lengthy letter of authenticity from top boxing collectibles expert Craig Hamilton.

    A guaranteed rematch at Lewiston, Maine eight months later would prove even more controversial than the first, and Liston would never again compete for the belt, though he'd record a dozen more knockouts before his decomposing body was found in his Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971. The Ring magazine ranked Liston as the seventh greatest Heavyweight of all-time in 2003.

    Please note that our consignor is a leading research scientist in the field of pancreatic cancer, and is auctioning these gloves as a means to increase funding for this important cause. LOA from Heritage Auctions. LOA from Craig Hamilton.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    September, 2016
    10th Saturday
    Internet/Mail Bids: 11
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