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Muhammad Ali Worn Kufi | Worn Prior to The ‘Thrilla in Manila’ (1975)

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Lot Closed

September 15, 06:33 PM GMT


100,000 - 200,000 USD

Lot Details




Circa 1975

“We went to Manila Champions, Joe and I, and we returned old men” - Muhammad Ali 

The culmination of years of bitter rivalry, The Thrilla in Manila is considered to be one of the greatest and most brutal boxing matches in history. The third rematch between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title, the match served as the end-all-be-all in the boxing world, a final chance for the sport to name its greatest.  

The definitive tie-breaker between the two men and the intense build-up to the fight was met with toe to toe mayhem in the ring. In a slugfest between the sport's greatest, Ali and Frazier battled for 14 remarkable rounds. 

The conditions of the fight were just as brutal. The Philippine Coliseum (now Smart Araneta Coliseum) in Manila reportedly could hold about 25,000 people, though that day, the aisles were also filled. Don Dunphy (the fight’s commentator) estimated about 28,000 people were in attendance. The fight took place mid-day, so as to account for American viewership and at “...125 degrees - we were fighting each other (as well as) against the heat.”

Days prior to the Thrilla in Manila, Muhammad Ali visited a mosque in Manila. Seen here is a black felt Kufi, with gold trim and “MUHAMMAD ALI” custom gold beading, worn by Ali just days before the fight. 

The Kufi, a symbol of respect, is a head covering often worn in the Muslim faith. Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, notably converted to Islam in 1964, after securing his first world heavyweight title.


The Kufi has been photomatched by Resolution Photomatching. The organization states:


The ResMatch image shows Ali standing at a microphone, and is captioned as being taken at a mosque on 9/25/1975, though this date could not be definitively confirmed. During dating research conducted, other images of Ali were found captioned as being taken at a mosque, in which he appeared to be wearing the same shirt as in the image captioned to 9/25/1975. Multiple images from this set were captioned as being taken on Friday, 9/26/1975. It is possible that Ali went to a mosque on both dates, or that one of the dates was captioned incorrectly. The images were also taken in the Philippines which is almost a day ahead of the United States by time zone, which could have led to mis-captioning. As a result, the exact date of the ResMatch image could not be definitively determined but is believed to very likely be either 9/25/1975 or 9/26/1975

Going Deeper | Muhammad Ali 

Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay began boxing at the age of 12. At 18, Clay had won the gold at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, before becoming a professional boxer later that year. 

Early in his professional career, Clay separated himself as a showman. He would not just win, but would also display charm and personality, often reciting poems about his opponents or coining now well-known phrases, such as “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

In 1964, after defeating brawler Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Championship in one of the largest upsets in sports history, Cassius announced that he had accepted the teachings of the Nation of Islam and had taken the name Muhammad Ali, a name given to him by his spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad. 

Over the next few years, Ali dominated boxing, defending his World Heavyweight Championship title and remaining undefeated in his professional career. 

In April of 1967, citing religious beliefs, Ali refused his draft status in the United States war in Vietnam. Ali’s classification as a conscientious objector was denied, resulting in the loss of his World Heavyweight Championship and his license to box. In June of 1967, Ali was sentenced to a 5-year prison sentence for refusing induction into the armed forces. Ali remained free on bail for four years, before his case was overturned by the Supreme Court. 

During his suspension, Ali publicly focused on his religion, engaging in conversations with civil rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and some of the world’s top athletes, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jim Brown who had also been standing up in the name of social justice. 

As he had been inspired, Ali inspired countless others. At Ali’s Funeral in 2016, Dr. Sherman Jackson spoke about Ali’s impact. “Ali did more to normalize Islam in this country than perhaps any other Muslim in the history of the United States… and all of this he did in a way that no one could challenge his belongingness to, or in, this country.” 

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier 

Ali’s return to boxing in 1970 sparked one of the greatest rivalries in sports history. Joe Frazier had become the World Heavyweight Champion in Ali's time away from the sport, so upon Ali’s reinstatement, a match between the two was inevitable. 

The two were once friends and Frazier publicly advocated for Ali and offered a helping hand during Ali’s trials. However, when pinned against each other in the ring, their relationship soured. 

Ali was known to taunt opponents, giving himself the moniker, ‘The Louisville Lip,’ he would often spew witty rhyming poems and match predictions prior to his fights. However, his taunts to Frazier had a different feel to them and they appeared far more personal. Ali had begrudged Frazier, not only because he had taken the title during his time away from the sport, but because Frazier continued to refer to him as “Clay.” 

The two would face off twice prior to The Thrilla in Manila (three times if you count the brawl on the Howard Cosell show) with each man emerging victorious once. 

In a press conference before the third match, Ali said, “It’s gonna be a thrilla, and a chilla, and a killa, when I get the gorilla in Manila,” and thus the fight's famous nickname was born.

The Thrilla in Manila 

Ali took the early rounds of the fight, aggressively aiming for Frazier's head. The middle rounds belonged to Frazier. The two men battled, seemingly dead even. 

Frazier fought steadily throughout the fight, and Ali fought in short bursts, executing the “rope-a-dope” technique, using the ropes for support, and preserving energy to then release a series of punches. 

Late in the fight, it was apparent that both men were being pushed to the absolute limits. In the 12th round, Ali staggered Frazier, and again in the 13th, knocking out Frazier's mouthpiece for the second time in the fight. Frazier’s eyes were closing, the left one completely swollen shut. 

By the 14th round, both men were visibly battered on account of the heat that day and the flurry of offense in the fight. It became clear that the two were on the verge of breaking. Ali later said it was the closest he had ever felt to death. 

With one final round remaining, Frazier pleaded with coach Eddie Futch to let him continue. Futch would not oblige and would throw in the towel, ending the fight in Ali’s favor via TKO (Technical Knockout). After a moment of celebration, throwing his arms up, Ali collapsed to the canvas, likely from relief, or perhaps just pure exhaustion.

To many, it seemed as if the fight had altered the two men permanently. Frazier would fight only once more before his (first) retirement. Ali would defend his title 6 more times before his retirement in 1981, finishing his career with a final record of 56 wins and 5 losses with 37 knockouts.