Digital Exclusive: Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch gloves sell at auction

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The gloves worn by Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston during their iconic rematch are on the auction block (WABC)

Memorial Day marks the 50th anniversary of the heavyweight rematch between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, just a few months after boxing fans got the chance to own a piece of one of the most hotly debated title fights of all time.

From the now-famous "phantom punch" rematch between Ali and Liston came a rare auction of the gloves each of the heavyweight fighters wore that night in Lewiston, Maine. An anonymous collector purchased both pairs of gloves for $956,000.

"These are really the first time the public is being made aware of them," said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale. "We had thought they had been lost in time."

Their whereabouts remained a mystery until recently, when a collector decided to put them up as part of Heritage's Platinum Night Sports Event Saturday in New York.

"The unique thing about these gloves and why they are still together nearly 50 years later is the controversy over the phantom punch," Ivy said.

The fight was the first bout in which Cassius Clay entered the ring as Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam, and it was the second fight between the men. Less than two minutes into the first round, Ali staggered Liston with an anchor punch and dropped him to the canvas. But some wonder if that punch actually connected.

"That controversy continues to live to this day," Ivy said. "The phantom punch. Did he really hit him? Did he go down? Did he take a dive?"

Ivy says that after the fight, the gloves were seized by Maine boxing commissioner George Russo, and they remained in his family until they were purchased by a California collector. The evidence, he says, is there to prove they are authentic.

"We can also see from the photo, there is red between the label and the white seam," he said. "And this is the only one of the four gloves where you have full red and the seam not touching the white. So you have photo matching, in addition to the provenance of these gloves being in the same family for four decades."

As part of the auction, the winning bidder received a signed photo by Neil Leifer, who took the now-famous photograph of Ali standing over a fallen Liston that was eventually an iconic Sports Illustrated cover.

Teresa Scott, a professional personal boxing trainer, sees the gloves as a major discovery for the sport.

"Sonny's hands, they touched Muhammad Ali, and just the exchange," she said. "It was just a short fight, it didn't last very long, but it just meant so much."

As she trains others to box and continues the sport she loves, she sees the gloves as being an important part of history.

"They're champions," she said. "I mean, Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston. Their struggles, their battles. They meant so much to the sport and to humanity, as far as I'm concerned."

Ali signed both pairs of gloves when he came to Lewiston in 1995 to celebrate the fight's 30th anniversary. Liston died in 1970.

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