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Irsay adds Muhammad Ali's first fight robe to collection

Ali wore the robe for the first time in 1965 after changing his name from Cassius Clay.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Jim Irsay Collection announced Sunday its acquisition of the first fight robe to bear the name of heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Ali wore the robe bearing his Muslim name for first time before his May 25, 1965 rematch with Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine. The white terry cloth robe featured “MUHAMMAD ALI” embroidered in bright red.

“Muhammad Ali was not only one of the greatest athletes the world has ever known," said Irsay, "but he also was a trailblazer for so many across our country and world.” 

Story of the robe

Fighting under his birth name of Cassius Clay, Ali beat then-champion Sonny Liston to become WBC heavyweight titleholder in Miami in February 1964. He joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali after the fight, but many boxing fans and news outlets refused to acknowledge his new name at that time.

Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay, as he was known at the time, is shown being interviewed after defeating Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston by technical knockout in a title fight in Miami Beach, Fla., Feb. 25, 1964. To Clay's left in the photo, wearing a robe bearing the fighter's given name, is Clay cornerman Drew Bundini Brown. (AP Photo)

A little more than a year later, Ali and Liston met for a rematch in Maine and at the weigh-in ceremony hours before the fight, Ali entered the ring wearing the robe with his name emblazoned across the back.  

Ali won the fight quickly, registering a first-round knockout. The moment was immortalized by ringside photographers with the iconic shot of Ali standing over Liston, flexing the powerful right arm that had delivered the knockout punch.

"This robe represents a pivotal moment in (Ali's) career when he was criticized for standing up for religious freedom and against racism and bigotry. I can’t think of anything more important then or today, and I’m proud to add this piece to my collection,” Irsay said.

Irsay acquired the robe at auction and added it to his collection of historic and culturally-significant artifacts. Irsay also owns Ali’s shoes from the 1975 fight known as the “Thrilla’ in Manilla” when he beat Joe Frazier for the second time in three fights, avenging his only loss at that time.

Irsay regularly loans items from his collection to museums, nonprofits and other organizations for display and research.


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