The gloves worn by both Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in the famous May 25, 1965 “Phantom Punch” bout in Lewiston, ME will be sold as a set on Feb. 21, during Heritage Auctions’ Platinum Night event in New York. The starting bid is $500,000.
The gloves have been consigned to auction by Los Angeles collector Seth Ersoff, who acquired the pair from the family of the boxing commissioner for the state of Maine in 1965.
“It’s not out of line to place these gloves among the most important pieces of memorabilia to ever come to market,” said Chris Ivy, Director of Sports Auctions at Heritage. “These transcend sports. The drama and outrage that swirled around the Ali-Liston fights were a microcosm of America’s growing pains of the mid-1960s.”
The first Ali-Liston battle had ended with Liston refusing to come out for the seventh round. Controversy swirled about a fix and a clandestine contract. Ali – then still Cassius Clay – was reviled and feared for his association with Malcolm X and the Black Muslims, while Liston was widely suspected of having mob ties.
“The rematch was the first time that Muhammad Ali stepped into the ring as Muhammad Ali,” said Ivy. “Not only had he just officially changed his name, the fight and everything that happened around it – beginning to end – put Ali on the path to becoming not only the greatest boxer of all time, but all one of the most beloved human beings on the planet.”
The moment of the fight is best captured in the famous Neil Leifer photograph in which both pairs of the gloves can be seen.
Only 2,434 fans were witness to the event-the smallest audience in Heavyweight Championship history and the continued existence of the gloves was unknown to the larger collecting world until a few years ago, when Ersoff reported his tale of ownership. The provenance includes sworn affidavits and a letter from Ali himself.
“In 1965, my uncle… was the boxing commissioner for the State of Maine,” writes a family member in an affidavit accompanying the glove. “As such, (he) was the person with authority over the heavyweight boxing championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, which took place in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965. The Ali-Liston fight was very controversial because of the knockout which Liston suffered in the first round. As a result of the controversy… with the authority vested in him by the State of Maine as the State Boxing Commissioner, (he) seized the boxing gloves worn by both Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston.”
The controversy lingered for quite some time, with Ali emerging in time as a cherished world figure and with Liston dying ignominiously, alone, in the waning days of 1970.