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Muhammad Ali's fight robe up for auction in Victoria

Photo by Raymond L. Tharaldson
all rights reserved 2000

A fight robe made for Muhammad Ali for the Rumble in the Jungle match against George Foreman in Zaire in 1974 is on display at Lunds Auctioneers. (May 16, 2011)
Two-tone black beads spell out Muhammad Ali on the back of the satin white fight robe on display in the window of Lunds Auction and Appraisal Specialists.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, timescolonist.com

Mystery surrounds the robe, which is said to date from the famed Rumble in the Jungle fight on October 30, 1974. It's not known if Ali ever wore the robe or even saw it — although at the fight he wore another similar robe, also showcasing African-style weaving.

In what boxing fans consider one of the greatest fights of all time, Ali beat then-world heavyweight champion George Foreman, knocking him down in the eighth round. The event was held in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 Peter Boyle, Lunds president, said Monday that it appears two robes were made, each with a black interior panel stating: "Christopher Lynch and Mr. Fish for The Greatest. Zaire — September, 21, 1974." The fight was originally scheduled for September but was postponed until the following month.

Boyle said it appears that at some point well-known U.K. designer Michael Fish gave one robe to Ali, keeping its twin for himself. It's that second robe which is coming up for auction on June 28 at Lunds on Fort Street.

In 1997, Christie's auctioneers sold the other robe from the Foreman fight for $156,500 (including the buyer's premium), the company's website states. Boyle estimates the robe in his window has a value of between $15,000 to $25,000.

"It is almost identical to this. You couldn't tell them apart," Boyle said.

The second robe is owned a Victoria man who told Boyle he was in London the day after the fight. He spotted the robe in the showroom window of a store operated by Mr. Fish and bought it. "He can't remember the exact figure (price)," Boyle said. Lunds is not releasing the name of the owner.

Ali's robe has a connection to this country. Canadian Anna Gruetzner-Robins, a professor of art history at the University of Reading in the U.K., designed and wove the tapestry panels. She was working as a weaver and living in Hammersmith in west London in 1974 when she was contacted by Fish, who paid her 200 pounds.

"It was roughly based on African textiles but only in the most general of ways," she said in an email to the Times Colonist on Monday.

The tapestry is a mixture of wool, horsehair, unspun wool, and ribbon.

Gruetzner-Robins did not have a television so went to a pub to watch the Ali-Foreman fight. "I didn't know whether he would wear it or not. I remember being very excited and saying to the man next to me that I had made it, and he replied, 'Yeh, I made his jock strap.' ... rude."

Gruetzner-Robins said she has a signed photograph of Ali wearing his robe.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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