A suspicious outcome in pro boxing is so common, it is often greeted with a shrug.
Dallas-based Heritage Auctions is about to auction two sets of gloves from one of the most suspicious bouts ever — Ali-Liston 2. Together, they may bring more than $1 million.
May 25 will be the 50th anniversary of the infamous fight held in a junior hockey rink in the mill town of Lewiston, Maine. It was 15 months earlier when Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, “shook up the world,” in his words, by defeating Sonny Liston to become heavyweight champion.
During the second fight, Liston mysteriously went down just 1 minute and 44 seconds into the first round. His fall followed what became known as Ali’s “phantom punch.” The referee, former heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott, declared a first-round knockout.
The crowd erupted in howls of “Fix!”
The fight would be called “The Shame in Maine.”
On Feb. 21, Heritage will auction the gloves worn by both fighters at its Platinum Night Sports Auction. Starting bid for the two sets of gloves: $500,000.
Last year, Heritage sold the gloves that Ali wore in his first fight with Liston for $836,500.
So what happened in Lewiston? Fifty years later, no one can say with certainty. That is where the potential value of the gloves is derived.
“These transcend sports,” says Chris Ivy, director of Sports Auctions for Heritage. “The drama and outrage that swirled around the Ali-Liston fights were a microcosm of America’s growing pains of the mid-1960s.”
Malcolm X connection
The public had reason to be suspicious of any bout involving these two fighters.
Liston was believed to be a pawn of organized crime. Ali had declared himself a member of the Nation of Islam, which to many Americans in 1965 was the moral equivalent. Three months before the second Ali-Liston bout, former Nation minister Malcolm X was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He had been Ali’s mentor in the boxer’s conversion.
The three men arrested were all members of the Nation of Islam. The Nation’s leader Elijah Muhammad was suspected of ordering the murder.
Ali’s time in Maine was marked by heavy police security after rumors circulated that followers of Malcolm X would take revenge by killing the heavyweight champ. Just months after the bout, Elijah Muhammad’s son Herbert Muhammad became Ali’s manager.
Taking gloves off
Ali’s trainer, the late Angelo Dundee, always contended the Lewiston fight ended with a legit KO. “Look at the film,” he said. “Sonny’s foot jumps off the canvas just as Ali hits him.”
The film did capture the moment the gloves were cut off. A look at Ali’s lips clearly shows him asking, “Did I hit him?”
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