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Someone Is Going to Pay Millions for Muhammad Ali’s ‘Thrilla in Manila’ Shorts

3 minute read

A sliver of boxing history has once again entered the ring—or rather, the auction block—as the white satin trunks worn by the late Muhammad Ali in his “Thrilla in Manila” 1975 bout with Joe Frazier in the Philippines has been put up for bidding on Thursday by the New York branch of London-based auction house Sotheby’s, which estimates the shorts to sell for between $4–6 million by the time the lot closes on April 12.

It’s the fifth time the famous Everlast-branded trunks—inscribed by Ali’s assistant trainer and cornerman Drew “Bundini” Brown and signed by “The Greatest” himself—have been auctioned, according to Sotheby’s, since Brown’s estate first sold the prized pair of pants to a private collector in 1988 for a reported $1,000 at the time. They last sold in 2012 for a reported $150,000.

Should Ali’s trunks go for $5 million or more this time, they’ll enter the top 10 most expensive sports memorabilia (not including trading cards), according to research firm Altan Insights. Sports collectibles transformed from what was once primarily a hobby for enthusiasts to a massive industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a global market value of $26 billion in 2021, per MarketDecipher, which expects that to surge to over $227 billion by 2032.

Analysts say one of the big drivers of growth is game-worn memorabilia, which Sotheby’s says it authenticates through a meticulous photo-matching process. The current record-holder for highest-priced sports memorabilia (not including trading cards), according to Altan Insights, is Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls jersey from Game 1 of the NBA Finals during his “Last Dance” 1998 season, which fetched over $10 million at auction in September 2022. Ali’s championship belt from his 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” fight against George Foreman was sold in July 2022 for more than $6 million.

Ali, who was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in 1942 and died in 2016, is regarded not just as one of the best boxers but as one of the most iconic sports and civil rights figures of all time. His 1975 fight in the Philippines with Frazier was the culmination of a legendary three-match rivalry that began with the “Fight of the Century,” when former champion and then undefeated Ali lost to heavyweight champion “Smokin’ Joe” at Madison Square Garden in 1971 shortly after Ali returned to the ring after being sidelined for years for refusing to register for the draft due to his religious and ethical objection to the Vietnam War. Ali settled the score in a follow-up fight in 1974, before proving his superiority over Frazier in a final match-up in Manila.

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