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    The ultimate Neiman in both form and substance!

    1971 Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier "Fight of the Century" Original Painting by LeRoy Neiman. 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.

    This dazzling oil on poster board artwork captures the moments after the final bell sounded, Ali at left appearing resigned to the fact that the knockdown sealed the deal for Frazier, who stands at right with arms raised. Uniformed police climb into place along the ring apron to discourage a rush of fans.

    This is LeRoy Neiman at his absolute best--a definitive example of his churning expressionistic style featuring one of the greatest New York City sporting events of the twentieth century, and what is arguably his number one subject in the person of Muhammad Ali. We'll recall that Neiman painted the artwork utilized for the on-site program cover and the closed-circuit promotional posters for this bout, and subsequently released a famous suite of fifteen etchings captured on-site. We suspect that the offered artwork was completed back at Neiman's Manhattan studio in the days following the historic battle.

    The painting measures an impressive 22x28" in size, full bleed to the edges, its condition diverging from perfection only in a square-centimeter loss to lower left corner. The artist signs and dates the work at lower left.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2020
    22nd-23rd Saturday-Sunday
    Internet/Mail Bids: 26
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,378

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