The gloves that Muhammad Ali used in the Fight of the Century against Joe Frazier sold for almost $400,000 at auction on Thursday.
An anonymous bidder paid $388,375 for the gloves, Heritage Auctions announced. The price paled compared to the $836,500 fetched by a previous auction of the gloves Ali used to win his first world championship in 1964.
Ali fought Frazier for the world heavyweight title in the March 8, 1971 meeting at Madison Square Garden, the first of their three fights, which lived up to its hype. Ali, 31-0 with 25 KOs, was making a comeback after a 3 1/2-year absence in which he became a polarizing superstar in America after shunning the Vietnam War draft. Frazier, 26-0 with 23 KOs, was an accomplished bruiser from Philadelphia and the heavyweight champ after Ali had been stripped of his title.
“It was a controversial fight at a controversial time in America and the bout took on distinctly political and cultural overtones,” Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions for Heritage, said in a statement.
Before he’d been stripped, Ali had defended his title since taking it from Sonny Liston in 1964. Frazier earned the belt with big knockouts of Buster Mathis and Jimmy Ellis. Both men had legitimate claims to the title. Both were guaranteed $2.5 million, a record at the time.
“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,” Ivy said.
Frazier beat Ali in that fight, which went the full 15 rounds, but Ali got his revenge with a unanimous 12-round decision at the Garden in 1974 and stopped Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975, defending the world title he’d won back by beating George Foreman the year before.