A heavyweight bout lasted well into Sunday morning. And when the final bell rang at Heritage Auctions, Indianapolis Colts owner and philanthropist Jim Irsay walked away with the championship belt – specifically, Muhammad Ali’s World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight championship belt earned in his victory over George Foreman in 1974’s legendary Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire.
The WBC belt realized $6,180,000, the highest price for a sports collectible sold at Heritage Auctions. It was offered alongside other historic Ali items in Heritage’s July 21-23 Summer Sports Catalog Auction.
“After several hours of watching two bidders go back and forth over this belt, this proved to be a battle worthy of the Rumble itself,” says Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions. “We’re just thrilled this extraordinary piece of boxing history – of sports history, of cultural history – found such an exceptional caretaker who will now share it with the rest of the world.”
Indeed, as Irsay tweeted Sunday morning, he will add the belt to his celebrated collection of historical and pop-culture artifacts currently touring the country. The belt will be displayed on August 2 at Chicago’s Navy Pier and on Sept. 9 in Indianapolis. “Proud to be the steward!” Irsay tweeted.
Two Muhammad Ali World Boxing Council belts are known to exist, each presented retroactively to Ali in 1976 for his 1974 victory over Foreman. One of those belts remains in a private collection. The title belt sold Sunday, like so many of the most extraordinary Ali artifacts circulating the hobby today, was first acquired in 1988 when the contents of Ali’s late boxing coach Drew “Bundini” Brown’s storage lockers were sold at auction.
Heritage’s catalog called this belt “arguably the most important boxing award ever made available at public auction,” with good reason. Ali was drafted to fight in Vietnam but refused induction into the U.S. Armed Forces, insisting his religion forbade him from serving. Said Ali in April 1967, “I will not go 10,000 miles to help kill innocent people.” The cost to Ali was enormous: He was stripped of his boxing license – and his World Boxing Association title.
The comeback fight with Foreman, which took place in Kinshasa, Zaire, on Oct. 30, 1974, was “arguably the greatest sporting event of the 20th century,” Grantland once noted. As documented in the Academy Award-winning 1996 film When We Were Kings, the event was a spectacle that began with a three-day music festival in September and concluded with Ali’s eighth-round knockout of the man who entered the ring the overwhelming favorite.
The belt joins other Ali artifacts in Irsay’s collection, including his 1965 walkout robe that first bore his new name, his shoes from the 1975 Thrilla in Manila vs. Joe Frazier and his fight-worn gloves from a 1966 title defense in Germany.
While the belt deservedly made international headlines, it was far from the only showstopper in the auction.
“This auction included extraordinary items from some of the greatest past and present athletes,” said Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, “and the results reflect the continued surge in demand. Muhammad Ali, Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan all are on the short list of the greatest in their respective sports, a stature reflected in the results from this sale.”
A 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle Rookie No. 253 PSA NM-MT 8 drew 28 bids before it finished at $444,000. There is some debate about the virtues of the Bowman and Topps issues of the early 1950s, but what is undeniable is that Mantle is the key card in each. While the Topps 1952 Mantle is prized throughout the hobby, the card offered here is from the first season in which Mantle suited up for the Yankees.
A decade later, Mantle graced what has been called the rarest of all Topps test issues: a 1961 Topps Dice Game Mickey Mantle PSA that fetched $396,000 – a record for the card and set. Just 19 specimens from the entire issue have been sealed in PSA slabs, two of which – including this example – feature Mantle. The set never was issued to the public. The appeal centers on that rarity, as well as the fact that this card is from the season in which Mantle and teammate Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record.
Hockey Cards:Singles (1970-Now), 2015 Upper Deck The Cup Connor McDavid (Rookie AutographPatch-Level 2) #197 PSA Gem Mint 10 – #’d 38/99 – Pop Three!…Connor McDavid already is among the greatest hockey players on the planet – at just 25 years old, the Edmonton center already has a pair of Hart Trophies (given to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player). A 2015 Upper Deck The Cup Connor McDavid (Rookie Autograph Patch-Level 2) No. 197 PSA Gem Mint 10 brought a winning bid of $228,000 – a record for any card featuring one of the game’s brightest stars. This example is one of just three to earn the GM 10 grade. The patch at the center of the design features all three of the Oilers’ uniform colors, and the card bears the signature of the player widely accepted as the best skater in the world.
Those who, like so many NHL goalies, missed a chance to grab McDavid had ample opportunity to fortify their collections of hockey heroes, thanks to eight lots from the collection of legendary NHL netminder Patrick Roy. Tops among his offerings was a 1951 Parkhurst Hockey Complete Set (105) from The Patrick Roy Collection that nearly doubled its pre-auction estimate and drew 25 bids before closing at $51,600.
A 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie No. 57 PSA Gem Mint 10 continued the unending demand for MJ materials when it reached $186,000. Many consider the bookends of post-war card collecting to be represented by the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle No. 311 and this magnificent card featuring the most popular basketball player on the planet.
The event included numerous records – among them:
- A 1968 Topps 3-D Test Roberto Clemente PSA Gem Mint 10: $162,000 – a record for the card and set
- A 1925 Exhibits Lou Gehrig Rookie PSA VG 3 (MK): $87,000
- A 1963 Topps Mickey Mantle No. 200 PSA Mint 9: $81,000
- A 1948 Bowman Stan Musial Rookie No. 36 PSA Mint 9: $63,000
- A 1914 Cracker Jack Christy Mathewson No. 88 PSA Authentic: $51,600
- Other top lots in the sale included, but were not limited to:
- A 1986 Fleer Basketball Wax Box with 36 Unopened Packs: $132,000
- A 1933 Goudey Napoleon Lajoie No. 106 SGC NM/MT 8: $114,000
- A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle No. 311 SGC VG/EX 4: $99,000
- A 2000 Bowman Chrome Tom Brady (Refractor) Rookie No. 236 PSA Mint 9: $75,000
- A 1986 Topps Jerry Rice Rookie No. 161 PSA Gem Mint 10: $57,000
- A 1953 Topps Yogi Berra No. 104 PSA Mint 9: $56,400
Boxing Collectibles:Memorabilia, 1971 Muhammad Ali Fight Worn & Signed Robe from Frazier I Bout with Provenance….The record-setting title belt was one of 428 Ali lots sold among the 4,201 that found new homes during the event, thanks to the 2,884 bidders who took part. The auction featured Ali keepsakes, including robes, gloves, trunks, shoes and promotional posters. The list of top individual Ali lots after the belt that led the event includes, but was not limited to:
- The Fight-Worn & Signed Robe from the first Ali-Joe Frazier bout in 1971: $348,000
- An Sonny Liston Fight-Worn Robe from Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) I Bout: $81,000
- Ali Fight-Worn & Signed Gloves from 1976 Ken Norton III Bout: $63,000
- A 1964 Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) vs. Sonny Liston I On-Site Fight Poster: $32,400
- The 1974 Muhammad Ali Fight-Worn Mouthpiece from “The Rumble in the Jungle”: $18,600
- Boxing’s greatest showman was known, of course, as “The Greatest” – and with good reason. But he was far from the only star whose relics brought aggressive bidding.
Complete results can be found at HA.com/50057.