He was brash and outspoken at times, but Muhammad Ali was a also a gentle jokester in the presence of friends and admirers. Evidence of that comes in the form of a pair of boxing trunks that carry Ali’s own depiction of a fight with Joe Frazier.
The trunks have been in the possession of Frank Longwell, a fan and collector from Ohio, for over 40 years. Along with one of Ali’s old sparring wraps saved from the trash and an autographed piece of paper Longwell obtained immediately after Ali’s title defense are now part of a vintage sports memorabilia auction that closes this weekend.
“In 1975, I went to the Richfield Coliseum between Akron and Cleveland to talk to the Promotions and Public Relations departments,” Longwell recalled.
His goal as public affairs manager of a large insurance company was to secure passes to major events at the facility; credentials that he hoped would lead to access. Ali would defend his heavyweight title against Chuck Wepner at the Coliseum in March of that year and as a sports fanatic, Longwell was determined to get as close to the champ as he could.
It worked. Longwell got his passes for the Ali-Wepner fight and attended a couple of the champ’s sparring sessions with Larry Holmes and other fighters.
“I took my camera and shot a lot of pictures in the dressing room and in the ring.”
Ali would successfully defend his title on the night of March 24, 1975, but not without a scare. Wepner took him to 15 rounds and remains the only man who knock Ali to the mat while he was defending a title.
“After the championship fight, I went to the dressing room, got Ali’s signature and picked up the Everlast hand wrap as it was cut from his wrist and landed in the waste basket,” Longwell recalled.
The most interest prize, though, while he was in Ali’s presence once again several years later were the boxing trunks. They were not worn in the ring, but instead became a canvas for Ali’s creative talents.
Ali appeared at a charity dinner and again, thanks to some connections, Longwell wound up with a unique piece of memorabilia.
“I got in through my friend Bob, whose daughter was the organizer,” Longwell recalled.
“I had brought Everlast shorts and gloves in the style he wore for him to sign, and on the trunks he signed one leg and on the other he drew a boxing ring with two stick figures—and wrote ‘Frazier’ to refer to the one lying down.”
Longwell also secured a pair of boxing trunks with Ali’s signature that night.
Photographs showing Ali signing autographs are included with the trunks and photos of his Coliseum dressing room are included with the hand wrap.
The trunks, the wrap, the personalized piece of paper that Ali signed for Longwell after the bout, a pair of Ali signed boxing gloves and other sports-related items are being sold by Everything But the House in an online event that closes Sunday at EBTH.com.