Ali’s Thrilla in Manila Trunks Going on the Block at Robert Edward Auctions

The famous trunks that Muhammad Ali wore in the “Thrilla in Manilla” bout against Joe Frazier have been consigned to Robert Edward Auctions’ spring sale, and will be sold on May 12, 2012.

Muhammad Ali Boxing Trunks

The legendary heavyweight title bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on October 1, 1975, famously known as the “Thrilla in Manilla,” marked the third and final bout between the two fighters and is universally regarded as one of the greatest boxing matches in history. These are the very trunks worn by Ali in that epic fight, which, ideally, have ironclad authentication and provenance, have been photo-matched and video matched, remarkably are even pictured and identified in the 35th anniversary edition of Sports Illustrated, published on November 15, 1989, and originate directly from Drew “Bundini” Brown, Ali’s longtime assistant trainer and friend. (In fact, it was Brown who coined Ali’s most famous mantra: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”) These are the most easily identifiable and most well-documented fight-worn Ali trunks from any Ali fight in his entire extraordinary career.

The white satin trunks feature a black trim at the waistband and black piping running down the side of each leg. An “Everlast” label appears on the front of the waistband that is further lettered “Made Expressly for Muhammad Ali.” Period black-marker notations (presumably in Bundini’s hand) appear on each leg. The writing on the right leg reads “Ali-Frazier Fight/Trilla in Manilla,” while the writing on the opposite leg reads “Pres. F. Marcos/Manila, Philippines/Oct 1, 1975.” The black-marker signature (grading “9”) of Muhammad Ali, which was added at a later date, appears below the notations on the left leg. Original and unaltered, the trunks display some reddish discoloration on the front and back. The black color trim has faded slightly from natural aging.

These trunks have a very detailed and documented history. In an accompanying two-page letter of authenticity from noted boxing expert Craig Hamilton, he relates their full provenance. In part:

The signature of Muhammad Ali on the left leg is, in my opinion, an authentic signature of Muhammad Ali dating to the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. Our research has determined the signature was obtained by a prior owner of the trunks named Andrew Heller. The trunks date to the time of the fight which was fought on October 1, 1975. Research shows that the trunks went from Muhammad Ali to his long time assistant trainer and friend, Drew “Bundini” Brown. Drew “Bundini” Brown was at the fight on October 1, 1975 and had access to the trunks and other equipment. Brown stored the trunks in a storage locker near his home in California along with a large quantity of equipment used by Muhammad Ali in training and in numerous fights. Drew “Bundini” Brown died in Los Angeles, California on September 24, 1987. The contents of his locker including his fabulous collection of Muhammad Ali memorabilia was sold for non payment of locker fees by Sartain Auctioneers in April, 1988. Each item in the sale, including the trunks referred to herein, were tagged with a number, described for the sale and sold. This original “locker” sale inventory is attached to this letter. On page three of the inventory these trunks are described and given the number RK8822. They are described as follows: OFF-WHITE SATIN BLACK SATIN TRIM RUNNING AROUND THE WAIST AND DOWN EACH SIDE. LABEL TYPE 1. BLACK PRINTING ON TRUNKS READS “PRES. F. MARCOS ALI-FRAZIER FIGHT MANILA, PHILIPPINES TRILLA IN MANILA OCT. 1, 1975.” PINKISH DISCOLORATION BLEEDING DOWN FROM THE WAIST. OTHER SMALL PINK SPOTS ON THE BACK. LABEL SLIGHT PINKISH CAST, OTHERWISE CONDITION VERY GOOD. 650.00. This description perfectly matches the trunks described herein. I have matched these trunks to video from the fight and color still photographs from the fight and the trunks compare favorably in every detail. The writing on the trunks was, in my opinion, added by Drew “Bundini” Brown when the trunks were in his possession. The trunks and other Ali items were purchased by Andrew Heller. Mr. Heller sold these trunks at Sotheby’s Auction in 2002. His consignment letter dated March 20, 2002 listing these trunks as Item # 5 is attached to this letter. It is my understanding these trunks are now to be sold by the purchaser of the trunks from the Sotheby’s sale in 2002 as part of the spring, 2012 auction by Robert Edwards Auctions. Based on all research performed on these trunks it is my opinion these trunks are the actual trunks worn by Muhammad Ali in his fight with Joe Frazier on October 1, 1975.

In addition to the information provided by Hamilton, these very trunks were featured in the special 35th anniversary edition of Sports Illustrated, published on November 15, 1989 (the issue accompanies the trunks as well). Ali, who graces the cover of the magazine, is the subject of a feature article by Gary Smith, and on page 216 a picture of the offered trunks appears alongside a number of other historic Ali fight-worn items. The caption for the trunks read: “The trunks Ali wore in Manila now bears Bundini’s scrawl.”

The trunks have been consigned to this auction directly from the original buyer at the September 16, 2002 Sotheby’s auction (where they sold for $58,250).

There are very few boxing pieces that transcend the sport. This pair of trunks is one of them. No fight in history has ever captured the public’s imagination so thoroughly as did the “Thrilla in Manila.” The publicity and buildup to the fight was only surpassed by the fight itself, a grueling rubber match waged in sweltering heat between the two best fighters or their era. In 1971, Frazier, who was champion at the time, had defeated Ali in their first bout, dubbed “The Fight of the Century.” Frazier’s victory in that bout gave Ali the first loss of his professional career. Their second fight, which took place in 1974, ended in a lackluster twelve-round unanimous decision for Ali. In this, Ali’s fourth title defense since upsetting heavyweight champion George Foreman in October, 1974, the two combatants would meet for the third and final time. The fight was scheduled to be held at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on October 1, 1975. As was the case in their previous two fights, Ali engaged the public and press with his merciless taunting of Frazier, calling him ugly, stupid, and likening him to a gorilla (which conveniently rhymed with Manila). Ali even brought a toy gorilla to the press conferences, repeatedly hitting it while yelling “It’s gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the Gorilla in Manila.” Frazier, who deeply resented all of Ali’s verbal jabs, kept a very low profile and secluded himself in training for what most people thought was to be his last fight. Frazier’s dedication, coupled with Ali’s somewhat cavalier training regime set the stage for one of the sport’s most brutal encounters. Waged in a sweltering auditorium with little ventilation, Ali dominated the early rounds before tiring, which allowed Frazier to score repeatedly with powerful body shots throughout the middle rounds. By the tenth round the fight was essentially even, and the next five rounds would test each fighter’s heart, stamina, and courage, as it had never been tested before. Finally, after Frazier’s eyes were both nearly closed, his trainer, the legendary Eddie Futch, refused to let him answer the bell for the fifteenth and final round. As Frazier pleaded with him to go on, Futch told him “Sit down son. It’s all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today.” Futch was right. Thirty-seven years later people still talk about fight and anyone who witnessed it will never forget the battered appearance of both fighters as they had to be helped back to their dressing rooms following the bout. Immediately afterwards, Ali had nothing but compliments for his opponent: “I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man and God bless him.” Ali also said the fight, “Was like Death. Closest thing to dyin that I know of.” Frazier too, was magnanimous in defeat, telling reporters: “Man I hit him punches that’d bring down the walls of a city. Lawdy, Lawdy, he’s a great champion.”

The trunks are housed in a handsome framed wall display measuring 34 x 28 inches. They are accompanied by an original copy of the October 13, 1975 edition of Sports Illustrated picturing Ali on the cover wearing these very trunks. They are also accompanied by an original copy of the 35th anniversary edition of Sports Illustrated with Ali on the cover, published on November 15, 1989, that pictures and also identifies the trunks ( “The trunks Ali wore in Manila now bears Bundini’s scrawl.”) in the gallery of historic Ali fight-worn items. LOA’s from Craig Hamilton and LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $25,000. Estimate $50,000++.

To learn more about Robert Edward Auctions, receive a complimentary copy of the catalog or inquire about consignments via their website or call 908-226-9900.

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