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1970’s Muhammad Ali WBC Heavyweight Championship Belt Earned in Victory over George Foreman in the “Rumble in the JungleGo Back
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970’s Muhammad Ali WBC Heavyweight Championship Belt Earned in Victory over George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle.”
“I have searched my conscience and I find I cannot be true to my belief in my religion by accepting such a call.”
With those words, Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali sealed a fate that would transform him from king of the athletic world to pariah, from owner of boxing’s most prestigious title to outcast, banished from the sport he had ruled for the three years since his historic underdog victory over Sonny Liston in February of 1964.
In the national backlash that followed Ali’s principled stand against participation in the Vietnam War draft, we can find echoes of another great African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World, the first. But even Jack Johnson was not stripped of his title, just his citizenship as a free American, banished only geographically rather than professionally. Ali lost not only his title but his passport as well, trapped within the borders of a nation that had delegitimized him in every way it could, and that would rob him of over three years of his prime.
The tide would begin to turn in 1970, when first the City of Atlanta Athletic Commission, and soon after the New York State Boxing Commission, cleared Ali’s path to a return to the ring. And so he would step back through the ropes, intent upon reclaiming what was rightfully his.
He would get his opportunity in the third bout of his return, a contest quite reasonably billed as “The Fight of the Century,” bringing together the former and reigning Heavyweight Champions, each risking his own undefeated record. The event would live up to the considerable hype, but it would be Frazier’s gloves lifted in victory at Madison Square Garden in a unanimous decision that evening. The WBC belt would remain strapped to Frazier’s waist.
But not for long.
Frazier would defend the belt successfully twice more before meeting George Foreman in Kingston, Jamaica in early 1973. The contest was as brief as it was violent, the challenger dropping the Champion six times inside of two rounds before the referee mercifully rescued Frazier with a wave of his arms. Foreman was now WBC Champion, and the most terrifying force of nature the fight game had ever seen.
So when a meeting between Ali and Foreman was announced, those considering the transitive property of boxing saw a successful title defense as a foregone conclusion. Frazier had beaten Ali. Foreman had flattened Frazier. Therefore, Ali was a dead man walking.
But we all know what happened in that steamy arena in Kinshasa, Zaire. In an exhibition of combat strategy that would have made Sun Tzu proud, Ali drained the thunder from the Foreman storm and then unleashed lightning of his own, dropping Goliath for the count and, finally, seven years after his title had been unjustly stripped, completing his long journey back to the mountain top of the sport.
Presented is the foremost symbol of that glorious achievement, the WBC Heavyweight Championship belt earned for Muhammad Ali’s victory over George Foreman in the fabled “Rumble in the Jungle.”
Ali would reign as WBC Heavyweight Champion of the World from October 30, 1974 until his loss to Leon Spinks on February 15, 1978. Though Ali would avenge the loss just seven months later, the belt had been stripped in the interim for Spinks’ refusal to meet top contender Ken Norton, leaving only the WBA title on the line in the rematch.
The whereabouts of that WBA belt is unknown. The “Ring Magazine” belt issued to Cassius Clay for his first title in 1964 was famously hocked by Drew “Bundini” Brown for $500 in 1965, and is believed to have been tragically melted down. The 1960 Gold Medal that represented the peak of Ali’s amateur career is lost beneath the Ohio River, discarded in a fit of anger after a racist incident in a Louisville restaurant.
Two Muhammad Ali WBC belts are known to exist, one in a private museum collection unlikely to ever see the hobby’s auction block. The only other known surviving Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Championship belt on Earth is presented here.
Like many of the greatest relics of Muhammad Ali’s career that circulate the hobby today, this belt derives from the famous Drew “Bundini” Brown storage lockers, their contents entering the collecting community in 1988 after Brown’s passing caused the bills to go unpaid. The winner of the clearance auction of the locker retained this belt personally, understanding its significance, and a signed letter of provenance from him will attend.
The WBC first awarded belts in 1976, the midpoint of Ali’s Heavyweight reign, and leading boxing memorabilia expert Craig Hamilton locates the earliest image of him wearing one-quite likely this exact belt-at Munich’s Olympiahalle on May 24, 1976, the site and date of his successful defense over Richard Dunn. But it is important to stress that Ali’s WBC reign began in Zaire, the belt a retroactive symbol of that achievement, as well as of the entirety of the subsequent rule.
The central plate of the green leather belt is gold-colored metal with enamel detailing of the swirling national flags, most of which has chipped away over decades of storage. Text reads, “World Champion W.B.C.,” and an “Adidas” sponsorship logo appears at bottom. The name of designer “Hugenin” appears at eight o’clock position. Smaller twin “Adidas” plates frame the central plaque, and golden pinstriping adorns top and bottom of the leather belt itself, which measures forty inches (40″) end to end.
But the historical significance of the piece, arguably the most significant boxing award ever made available at public auction, is quite simply immeasurable. Far more than just a trophy of elite athletic achievement, this belt serves as a mute witness to Muhammad Ali’s undaunted pursuit of justice itself, and as a symbol of the myriad complexities of race, religion and patriotism that challenge all of us to this day. It is a truly priceless artifact of the American experience, and of an American life as consequential as any thus far lived.