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    Ali blames "Fight of the Century" loss on the color red!

    1971 Muhammad Ali Fight Worn & Signed Robe from Frazier I 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.

    For a man whose entire persona had been constructed upon a granite foundation of self-confidence, the loss at the Garden hit Ali like a Frazier left hook, and his search for answers turned quickly to superstition. Though the vanquished former champion had characterized his chosen garb in the March 4, 1971 issue of The New York Times as "A red and white king's robe," he expressed to his entourage after the defeat that he believed his infidelity to his tried and true black and white color palette had been his fatal error. He'd never wear red again.

    So if the Red Sox had its Curse of the Bambino and the Cubs its Curse of the Billy Goat, then Muhammad Ali had the Curse of the Red Robe. The ultimate symbol of Ali's first defeat, it also serves as a compelling commemoration of the character trait that would come to define him--unbreakable perseverance. He'd rise from the ashes of his first professional loss to outpoint Frazier in a tight decision in 1974, and then skate along the precipice of death in one of the most harrowing title fights in boxing history to achieve TKO victory in the fabled Thrilla in Manila rubber match.

    "Inside of a ring or out, ain't nothing wrong with going down," Ali would say. "It's staying down that's wrong."

    As with the bulk of the finest Ali artifacts populating our hobby, this robe derives from the abandoned storage locker of Drew "Bundini" Brown, the source of trunks and gloves from the Rumble, the Thrilla, etc. The Frazier I robe bears the lot tag from the 1988 Sartain Auction that represents its first public sale.

    A perfect match to photography and video of the bout, the red velvet garment announces "Muhammad Ali" in white tackle twill on verso, underscored by a bold black sharpie autograph applied when the three-time Champ was still able to produce quality signatures. Belt, collar and trim appears in sleek white satin. The robe has no maker's label, a custom creation. This most recognizable Ali robe available to the collecting community presents without any condition problems to report, a gorgeous showpiece from the most heralded bout of the twentieth century. LOA from Craig Hamilton. LOA from Heritage Auctions. Full LOA from PSA/DNA.


    Guide Value or Estimate: $1,000,000 - up.

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    Auction Dates
    February, 2019
    23rd-24th Saturday-Sunday
    Internet/Mail Bids: 1
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