Photos: Muhammad Ali memorabilia collection


Covering boxing has been Dan Rafael’s full-time job since March 2000, but long before that he was — and still is — a hard-core fan. He has been collecting boxing memorabilia since the late 1980s.

Rafael’s main focus is on posters, programs, cards and videos, and there’s plenty more than what’s listed below (check out his Twitter feed). Rafael estimates he has more than 4,000 posters, around 2,500 programs, hundreds of cards and tens of thousands of fights on video. Yes, he admits he may have a bit of obsession in growing this collection.

A fraction of his collection is dedicated to Muhammad Ali, so on the one-year anniversary of the death of “The Greatest,” Rafael presents some of his favorite Ali memorabilia.

Signed and framed large photo

“When I was hired to cover boxing by USA Today, my father gave me this great gift as congratulations. It is one of the most famous boxing photos of all time, framed and signed by Ali, who is pictured standing over the fallen Sonny Liston.”

Eric Thayer for ESPN

Ali-Frazier I candy dish 

“I don’t own the site poster for Ali’s famed first fight with Joe Frazier. Maybe someday. It’ll cost about $4,000. This item replicates the image on the poster and only cost about $250. It’s a glass candy dish from that legendary 1971 world championship fight. Besides having the poster image on it, it’s meaningful to me because it was something given to reporters who covered the fight.”

Ali, Frazier dual-signed glove

“This was a fantastic gift from my in-laws: a glove signed by Ali and Frazier, who formed boxing’s greatest rivalry. One thing collectors know about Ali autographs is that as his Parkinson’s disease progressed, he signed fewer and fewer autographs. The ones he did sign became smaller and smaller because it became harder for him to write. This Ali signature is rather large, meaning it was signed well before the disease really began to take its toll. Frazier always had a nice, large signature.”

1966 Panini sticker 

“There has long been a debate among collectors about which card is Ali’s rookie card. There are a few possibilities, but many go with this one from the 1966 multisport Panini sticker set produced in Italy and featuring a popular image of then-Cassius Clay in the 1960 Olympics. The reason this is the favorite for many collectors is because it was the first Ali card available in packs produced by a mainstream company (Panini still produces cards and stickers to this day). Because they are stickers on very thin paper, they are extraordinarily condition-sensitive. Finding one in mint condition is very tough and expensive. It took years for me to find this one.”

Ali-Norton III poster

“In 1976, Ali won a controversial decision in his third fight with Ken Norton to retain the heavyweight title. This is one of the posters produced for that fight, which combines two of my favorite things — boxing and the New York Yankees. The fight was at Yankee Stadium, which is mentioned in large letters at the bottom of the poster.”

Ringside Boxing memorabilia card

“In 2010, the ‘Ringside Boxing – Round One’ card set was issued. Among the fancy insert cards was this super-cool memorabilia card (limited to 30 copies) featuring four all-time great heavyweights: Ali (with a swatch of training-used trunks), Frazier (with a swatch of a fight-worn robe), Larry Holmes (also with a piece of a fight-worn robe) and Mike Tyson (with a chunk of training-worn trunks). I don’t think cards get much cooler than this one.”

Ali-Spinks I program 

“In 1978, Leon Spinks, in just his eighth pro fight, pulled a gargantuan upset, taking a split decision from Ali to win the heavyweight title. This a mint copy of the program from that fight at the Hilton in Las Vegas.”

1978 Ali-Superman card 

“This is simply one of the most awesome trading cards ever produced of any sport. What’s better than a mint card of Ali shaking hands with another world-famous heavyweight, Superman, the only one who could have beaten him in his prime? This comes from a 1978 set produced in Sweden. The back is blank.”

Ali-Frazier I closed-circuit poster 

“Fights often have a variety of posters produced. I may not own the site poster from Ali-Frazier I, but I do have this bad boy. It’s a gorgeous and large (30×45) poster for the closed-circuit showing of the fight in Harlem, New York.”

Modern Ali trading cards

“Not all Ali cards are expensive and there have been many produced over the years, including several in sets after his retirement. Here is just a sampling of five such cards. None should set you back more than about $10.”

Ali-Spinks II site poster

“Ali faced Spinks in a rematch of Spinks’ giant upset and outpointed him in September 1978 to regain the heavyweight title and become boxing’s first three-time heavyweight champion. They met at the Superdome in New Orleans and this is one of several site posters produced for that fight. It’s my favorite one, showing an artistic rendering of the two fighters under a spotlight and standing on top of the Superdome.”

1964 Mac Robertson’s quiz card

“This 1964 Mac Robertson’s quiz card is another entrant into the Ali rookie card sweepstakes and also extraordinarily difficult (and expensive) to find in high grade. It comes from a card game produced in Australia ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that featured photos of Olympians on the front with a trivia question about the athlete pictured. The answer and the identification of the Olympian is on the back.”


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