The first fight worn robe to bear his chosen name!
1965 Muhammad Ali Fight Worn Robe from Liston II Bout.
UPDATE: Please note that this long-format robe is actually the one Ali wore to the weigh-in. He wears an otherwise identical shorter robe for the actual fight. This weigh-in robe remains the earliest to bear the "Muhammad Ali" name.
The Neil Leifer photograph of a raging Ali standing over a fallen Liston is indelibly stamped upon the pages of our collective consciousness, the quintessential masterpiece of the genre, the shot chosen for the cover of the 1999 Sports Illustrated retrospective "The Century's Greatest Sports Photos." Like any great artwork, the image serves as a microcosm of a much larger story, most notably the rise of boxing's most celebrated practitioner.
In this manner, the image expertly distills the Ali mystique even as it documents what is arguably the most atypical moment of his career. As a towering figure of the sport, and one of the most unabashedly outspoken figures of twentieth century celebrity, Ali is perfectly revealed.
But as a one-punch knockout artist?
Here the faultlessly executed snapshot becomes murky. Just eighteen months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy tipped the nation into a maelstrom of suspicion and conspiracy theory, the sport of boxing had its own seemingly unsolvable mystery. The fact that the first bout had come to such an unexpected end--not only a shocking upset of the heavily-favored Liston, but the first surrender during a mid-round intermission in nearly half a century of Heavyweight Championship history--had already convinced many of a fix, a theory Liston's well-documented underworld associations only strengthened.
But when Goliath fell to David for a second time on May 25, 1965, less than two minutes after the opening bell at Lewiston, Maine, those whispered allegations quickly evolved into full-throated accusations. Only 2,434 fans were witness to the event--the smallest audience in Heavyweight Championship history--and none could offer definitive testimony. The fight film was studied like Zapruder's, but likewise failed to provide the answer: valid knockout, or "Phantom Punch?"
That uncertainty has fueled interest in the scant few relics to derive from the bout in much the same way we remain fascinated by Ruth's apocryphal "Called Shot" in the 1932 Fall Classic. The most compelling evidence of its resonance within collecting circles was supplied in Heritage Auctions' $956,000 price realized for both pairs of gloves worn in that briefest of battles, commanded in our February Platinum Night auction four years ago.
Here we present the robe that Ali wore into the ring for his very first title defense, flipping the script on the man who had won all three bouts prior to Ali by first-round knockout. A notarized letter of provenance from a man who had been an eighteen-year-old college freshman in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1965 tells the tale of acquisition, explaining that he had attended Ali's training camp in a neighboring town every day, becoming good friends with sparring partner Solomon McTier, taking him golfing a couple times at his father's country club. The young man had been offered tickets to the Lewiston bout but was unable to attend due to a final exam the next morning.
The day after the bout, the Ali entourage reconvened at camp to close up shop, and McTier introduced his young friend to Dundee, telling him of his kindness in getting him to the links. Dundee whispered something to McTier, who entered Ali's bus and returned with the robe we offer here.
The letter mistakenly states that the robe was worn in both weigh-ins and to enter the ring, but the weigh-in robe was different, a longer length, a point which boxing expert Craig Hamilton corrects in his detailed letter of authenticity. The terrycloth garment is labeled "Everlast" and bears a red embroidered "Muhammad Ali" across the back, the first time the iconic fighter wore that name into the ring. The distinctive style, with its dotted letter "i" at the end, is a perfect match to video and photography. The robe is lightly toned by sweat and age but presents perfectly with original belt. Notarized letter of provenance from original owner. LOA from Craig Hamilton. LOA from Heritage Auctions.
Robe is visible beginning at 1:15
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