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Ali memorabilia sells for plenty at auction

The robe, trunks and shoes that Muhammad Ali wore in 1974 when he beat George Foreman for the heavyweight title in their "Rumble in the Jungle" drew some of the highest bids Sunday at an auction of Ali memorabilia.

Ali regained the heavyweight championship with an eighth-round knockout of Foreman in Zaire. The white cloth, calf-length robe decorated with African patterns and elaborate beadwork was sold for $140,000 to a telephone bidder.The trunks sold for $50,000 and the shoes went for $52,000 to separate men bidding in the tent at Christie's.

"It's great. A lot of Muhammad Ali's fans have spoken for their love for Ali and the memorabilia that's available," said Ronnie Paloger, a Los Angeles businessman who put his private collection on the block.

Ali was said by his attorney to be disappointed about the auction. He did not participate and will not profit from it.

Ali had earlier said some of the items were stolen from him, but Christie's officials said Paloger owned everything free and clear.

"I haven't done anything other than put together a great collection," said Paloger, who amassed about 3,000 items over a seven-year period.

Asked if he was bothered by the criticism, Paloger smiled and said, "Muhammad Ali's my hero. He's still the greatest."

Another robe worn by Cassius Clay, Ali's name before he converted to the Muslim religion, sold for $20,000. The robe, from a Feb. 25, 1964 fight with Sonny Liston, features the words "The Lip" stitched on the back in red letters.

Its pre-auction estimate of $40,000-$60,000 was revised down to $25,00-$35,000 after Ali's official photographer Howard Bingham pointed out to Christie's officials that the robe didn't match the one shown in fight film.

A six-page letter sent by Ali to the Selective Service on Aug. 23, 1966, asking for a draft exemption as a minister of religion sold for $55,000 over the phone to Mike Cavendar of Tyler, Texas. Bidding began at $40,000.

The board declined Ali's request for reclassification and he was eventually found guilty of draft evasion, stripped of his title and forced into exile for 31/2 years.

Cavendar also purchased Ali's 1960 Golden Gloves trophy for $25,000, less than the pre-auction estimate of $30,000-$40,000.

Of the first 220 lots, 29 were pulled for lack of sufficient minimum bids.

The biggest of those were the judges' scorecards from the Feb. 25, 1964, heavyweight title fight between Clay and Liston in Miami Beach, Fla. Clay won his first championship when Liston failed to answer the bell for the seventh round.

The scorecards were estimated between $60,000 and $80,000, but the bidding never went higher than $40,000.

"When it comes to the big-ticket items, people who bid on them don't seem to be here today," said Simeon Lipman, a Christie's specialist in sports memorabilia. "Pieces from big fights are doing well and posters are doing well."

Daniel Kobylinski, a security consultant on vacation from New York City, was among the more modest bidders. He and a friend spent $1,900 for a Winston cigarette signed by Clay.

"I was sweating a little bit," Kobylinski grinned after holding off persistent competition. "He's always been a sports icon of mine growing up."

Kobylinski, a cigar smoker, joked, "I don't know if the temptation will ever be there (to smoke it)."

Ali pulled the unlit cigarette from the mouth of boxing historian Hank Kaplan in 1961. As a devout Muslim, Ali does not smoke or drink.

The auction drew a varied crowd, some of whom were too young to have seen Ali in his heyday of the 1960s and 1970s.

Robert Taylor, a contractor and self-described "future fight promoter" from Palm Desert, Calif., spent $2,200 on a cloth banner advertising the first fight on March 8, 1971, between undefeated champions Ali and Joe Frazier. Its worth was estimated at $800-$1,200.

"She kept nudging me to get it," Taylor said of his wife.