The gloves that Muhammad Ali wore in his 1971 Championship bout against Joe Frazier the first of three fights between the two giants of pugilism, which would culminate in the legendary "Thrilla in Manila" brought $388,375 on Thursday night, July 31, 2014, in Heritage Auctions
' Sports Collectibles Platinum Night Auction at The House of Blues in Cleveland, OH.
"'The Fight of the Century,' as it was billed, more than lived up to its billing despite the fact the Ali lost," said Chris Ivy. "I can think of no piece of memorabilia associated with it that could be more evocative than the gloves the Ali wore. Yes, he was defeated, but the fight really changed Ali as a man, starting the transition from a brilliant, rash rabble-rouser into the most beloved sports figure of the 20th century, if not of all time."
At the time, both fighters owned a legitimate claim to the Heavyweight Championship of the World, though only Frazier held the title officially. Ali's reign, which had begun in 1964 when he had beaten Sonny Liston, ended because of his refusal to enter the Vietnam draft. He became the most polarizing figure in American sports, fueling an antipathy within a segment of the American populace unseen since the reign of Jack Johnson. The country was polarized around the match: those who supported the Vietnam War and the failing cause of racial segregation vs. the anti-war crowd and those who favored the Civil Rights movement.
"IT's hard for us today to imagine the incredible hype around the fight, but the world completely stopped when it came time for the fighters to enter the ring in Las Vegas," said Ivy. "While our heavyweight collectors wouldn't have stood a chance in the ring, they certainly duked it out, through multiple rounds of bidding, before our winner emerged victorious."
The gloves were purchased by a collector who did not wish to be identified.
These gloves, according to Heritage specialists, are the most significant boxing gloves to reach the 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 a Heritage auction in February 2014 in New York City. Like those gloves, these derive from the personal collection of Ali's renowned trainer Angelo Dundee.
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, 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.