There is a reason Muhammad Ali called himself “The Greatest.” The late heavyweight champion handled a microphone better than any other boxer. “The Louisville Lip” could promote a fight or a cause better than any other athlete, taking his cue from the flamboyant professional wrestler of the 1950s, Gorgeous George.
From the time he won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, until he lit the cauldron to open the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ali was a giant in sports and in world culture.
On Feb. 15, 1978, Ali, in his second tour as heavyweight champion, lost the title to young upstart Leon Spinks. It was a shocking defeat, even though Spinks was a 1976 Olympic gold medalist, and Ali immediately campaigned for a rematch.
He used a live national TV platform with Brent Musberger to do it.
Prior to taking questions from reporters (including one from WCBS sports anchor and former New York Met Ron Swoboda) at the March 4, 1978 news conference, Ali read a 10-page, handwritten statement laying out his reasoning for securing a rematch.
That written plea Ali read that day was once part of the Ronnie Paloger Collection that was sold by Christie’s in 1997. It’s up for sale again in SCP Auctions’ Spring Premier Auction, which ends Saturday.
Ali got his rematch and became the first three-time heavyweight champ, beating Spinks on Sept. 15, 1978.
Earlier in his career, Ali was characterized by Sports Illustrated as being “widely acclaimed as the savior of boxing,” because of his talent and charisma. In 1978, Ali needed every bit of his charisma to gain a rematch.
Ali’s 10-page commentary included one paragraph on each page, each in Ali’s handwriting. Ali sketched out his thoughts in blue ink on lined paper.
The winning bidder in the SCP Auctions sale will also receive video footage of the actual speech made by Ali in 1978.
Even the first paragraph of Ali’s speech still exudes the confidence he had in himself:
“I called this press conference because there’s much talk about who should the champion Leon Spinks defend his title against,” Ali wrote. “It is a tradition that the ex-champion, is usually first to have the chance to regain his title. The champion Mr. Spinks agrees, that I also should be first to have another try for the title.”
The pages come with a letter of authenticity from PSA/DNA confirming the speech was written in Ali’s hand.
Bidding had surpassed $4,000 as of Wednesday with bidding set to continue through Saturday at SCPAuctions.com.