The red robe that Boxing legend, Muhammad Ali entered the ring with, wrapped with white trim for his “Fight of the Century” with Joe Frazier on the evening of March 8, 1971, inside a celebrity-packed Madison Square Garden, is now up for auction.
After Ali’s loss in a 15-round decision, the robe disappeared from his wardrobe permanently but 51 years later, it’s now being put in a Heritage Auctions event featuring more than 1,600 Ali items from his early career as Cassius Clay through his metamorphosis into “The Greatest.”
The opening bid is exactly $100,000 but the fabric is expected to end up selling for at least £800,000.
Ali may have died in June 2016, but his legacy still clearly lives on to this day.
“The robe is really iconic when you realize he lost the fight,” said collection owner Troy Kinunen, whose first buy was a vintage Ali fight poster in 1988 before amassing the unprecedented array of memorabilia available at the July 21-23 auction.
“Guys can get dejected,” he continued. “The robe represents the story of Ali’s comeback, his motivation to fight Frazier two more times and defeat George Foreman and regain the world championship.”
Other highlights of the collection assembled across 30 years include the signed mouthpiece Ali wore during that 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” victory over Foreman, an embroidered prayer cap gifted to the fighter before the “Thrilla in Manila” rematch with Frazier, and posters from all but one of Ali’s 61 professional fights.
The first Ali-Frazier match was so big that Frank Sinatra took his place as a ringside photographer and among the crowd of 20,455 were Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen and Diana Ross.
Ali, after the loss, suggested his choice of the red robe with his name in white lettering had something to do with his defeat and returned to his standard black and white outfit. The rare piece of ring attire was later autographed by Ali, who never wore it again.
“It’s the crown jewel of the collection,” said Kinunen. “It’s just very special.”
As are many of the lots from collection launched with Kinunen’s acquisition 34 years ago of a poster from Ali’s Nov. 14, 1966, fight with Cleveland Williams at the Astrodome.
“I had a sense of who Muhammad Ali was,” said Kinunen, 52, who was just a kid during Ali’s heyday. “I started researching and reading biographies on him. I had some VHS tapes and became introduced to him. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I became with his story.”
Kinunan says he recalls snapping up whatever he could when a cache of Ali memorabilia was auctioned off, but now says it’s time for him to sell.
“I have so much respect for the man and his legacy, but I’m not the proper caretaker,” he said. “I’m really happy with discussing this. I love sharing this. Let the other fans have their chance.”