This lot is closed for bidding. Bidding ended on 11/30/2012
Here presented are the weapons used by one extraordinary man to change the story arc of professional boxing for a generation and beyond.
The man was a 22-year-old named Cassius Clay, “The Louisville Lip,” an undefeated and uncensored, outspoken young challenger to boxing’s heavyweight crown owned by Sonny Liston, whose claim to the throne seemed impenetrable. Clay’s initial assault was launched through what would become yet another staple of modern American professional athletics – trash talking – this at a time when it was unthinkable for a black man in the United States to carry himself with the brash, intemperate, boasting manner that Cassius Clay would come to personify.
Imposing his character on the ferocious defending champ Sonny Liston, Clay traveled to Liston’s training camp in Surfside, Fla., and taunted the champ with chants of “big, ugly bear” that seemed to produce the desired results almost instantaneously. “After the fight, I am going to build myself a pretty home and use him as a bearskin rug,” chortled the challenger, ultimately adding the prediction that he would dispose of the fearful presence of Sonny Liston in eight rounds.
The merciless rhetorical pummeling of Liston continued in pre-fight weigh-ins and press conferences would be a harbinger of what would be Muhammad Ali’s mythical persona for the rest of his career. The chants, the poems, the predictions of precise rounds for his opponent’s demise (reportedly on the button at least a dozen times), all of this would be part and parcel of what generations of boxing fans would come to know of Ali.
But the devotion of millions of fans was still on the drawing board as young Clay entered the ring in Miami Beach on Feb. 25, 1964. Despite Liston’s well-documented links to a seedy underworld and even organized crime figures, an American public still grappling with all the implications and upheaval of the civil rights movement was slow to warm up to a noisy young black challenger who wasn’t at all inclined to display a humble demeanor that might have been more palatable to white America. It’s an impressive measure of Clay’s unbridled bravado and cavorting that he somehow managed to make the champion look sympathetic and a fan favorite. Sonny Liston was downright scary, but for many white boxing fans that was at least an expected and thus comfortable role for him to play as opposed to disruptive and confusing caterwauling of Cassius Clay.
Sportswriters of the day mirrored the bemusement and dismay of boxing fans, somehow missing much of the brilliance of the young challenger’s boxing skills amid the cacophony of sound and fury that surrounded his every move in and out of the ring. Only a handful of nearly four dozen writers at ringside picked Clay to win, with many echoing the widespread national sentiment that the Louisville challenger was likely deathly afraid of the “Big Bear,” a notion fueled by a pre-fight rumor that Clay has fled to Mexico rather than risk life and limb by entering the squared circle to tangle with such a threatening foe.
In a pre-fight physical the day before the bout, the excitable Clay registered a heart rate of 120 beats per minute, and fight insiders took this as evidence of the challenger’s well-justified terror about the prospect of entering the ring with Liston, but the rate was back to normal by the time of the official weigh-in. Indeed, years later biographers would point out that Clay had, in fact, been fearful of fighting the fearsome Liston, or at least he was during the opening round or two.
Much of that must have dissipated by the third round, when the challenger, constantly on the move and dodging or softening Liston’s punches, hit Liston with several strong combinations, even buckling his knees at one point and presumably disconcerting millions of fight fans in the process (Liston had been a 7-1 favorite). After overcoming a burning sensation in his eyes and a proclaimed inability to see attributed to a substance applied to Liston’s gloves after the fourth round, Clay continued his effusive dismantling of Liston, ending when Liston failed to rise from his stool as the bell rang for Round Seven. Clay’s improbable sixth-round TKO brought him his first heavyweight title. His jubilant and defiant celebration whereby Clay repeatedly taunts ringside detractors with his famous proclamations "I am the greatest!" and "I shook up the world!" has been rebroadcast countless times during the ensuing decades. Liston’s claim of an injured shoulder, the severity of which boxing historians have wrestled with for decades, adds an additional element to a narrative that hardly needed any embellishment.
The offered gloves were put on the hands of Cassius Clay moments before the fight by Clay’s trainer and cornerman Angelo Dundee and removed by Dundee post-fight as the magnitude of Clay’s feat reverberated throughout the sports world. The brown Sammy Frager Boxing Gloves Etc. are in wonderful condition, revealing Dundee’s period notation in red marker on the inside of each glove, “Clay, Feb. 25, 7 Rd. Liston” in addition to a smaller Dundee signature added below in black marker. The gloves show appropriate fight use but are otherwise problem free with laces largely intact. A letter of authenticity signed by the late Angelo Dundee (on his personal letterhead) notes that the gloves had been in his personal possession since the night of the fight, with the charming addendum that he displayed them shortly after at his son’s fifth-grade show-and-tell presentation. Also included are Polaroid snapshots of both Dundee and his wife, Helen, holding the gloves. These gloves must be considered as the most valuable and historically significant boxing artifacts in the world. These are the ultimate tools of Muhammad Ali’s trade from arguably his most legendary bout, used by him to forge his undisputed status as ‘The Greatest of All Time’.