Muhammad Ali’s WBC championship belt, awarded after he reclaimed boxing’s heavyweight title with a 1974 knockout of George Foreman, sold for a stunning $6.18 million early Sunday at Heritage Auctions.
The buyer was Indianapolis Colts owner and avid collector Jim Irsay.
It’s the among the most expensive pieces of sports memorabilia ever sold, trailing the $9.2 million sale of the 1986 World Cup jersey worn by Diego Maradona when he scored two of the most famous goals in history and the 1892 Olympic Manifesto which sold for $8.8 million in 2019.
“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.”
Originating in the collection of Ali’s longtime cornerman Bundini Brown, the belt first sold for $358,500 in 2016 and was at that time the first Ali championship belt ever offered at auction. The belt sold again a year later–for $231,500 less.
Two Muhammad Ali World Boxing Council belts are actually known to exist, each presented retroactively to Ali in 1976 for his win over Foreman. The other is being traded on the Collectable fractional shares platform.
The victory over Foreman in Zaire gave Ali the title that had been stripped from him seven years earlier, when he refused to be drafted into the Army to fight in Vietnam. He remained the WBC heavyweight champ from October 30, 1974 until his loss to Leon Spinks on February 15, 1978.
Brown collected a large number of historic Ali items from his time in the boxer’s inner circle, keeping them in a storage locker that was eventually sold in 1988 when the bill wasn’t paid. According to Heritage, the winner of the clearance auction kept the green belt from the Foreman fight because of its significance. Ali didn’t actually receive the belt until the WBC began handing them out to its champions in 1976.
Irsay indicated the belt would be part of his collection to put on display in Chicago August 2 and then in Indianapolis on September 9 and 10.
championship belt from 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ just added to @IrsayCollection Just in time for the Aug. 2 show at Chicago’s Navy Pier (and Sept. 9 at Indy). Proud to be the steward!🙏 pic.twitter.com/7wwTetIzYt
— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) July 24, 2022
Irsay has a large and expensive collection of sports, entertainment, pop culture and historical artifacts and regularly offers them for public viewing. He recently purchased an early Jackie Robinson game bat and a baseball signed by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Irsay’s other Ali pieces include the 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.
Ali’s famous red robe from his 1971 loss to Joe Frazier in their first bout sold in the Heritage auction for $348,000.
The Ali items were part of a 1,600 item collection acquired over many years by Troy Kinunen, the Milwaukee based owner of MEARS, which performs authentication work and conducts online auctions of sports memorabilia.
Other items sold in the Heritage auction included:
- 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle rookie card PSA 8 $444,000
- Rare 1961 Topps Dice Game Mantle PSA 1 $396,000
- 2015-16 Upper Deck The Cup Connor McDavid Rookie Patch Auto (# to 99) PSA 10 (1 of 3) $228,000
- 1968 Topps 3-D Test Roberto Clemente PSA 10 (1 of 6) $162,000