Colts owner Jim Irsay buys Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ title belt for $6.18M

DALLAS — Jim Irsay has scored another heavyweight victory in the sports memorabilia ring.

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The Indianapolis Colts owner was the winning bidder for the World Boxing Council heavyweight boxing championship belt awarded to Muhammad Ali when he defeated George Foreman in the celebrated “Rumble in the Jungle” title held in Kinshasa, Zaire on Oct. 30, 1974.

The belt fetched $6,180,000, including buyer’s premium, in Heritage Auctions’ Summer Sports Catalog Auction that ended Saturday night. The Dallas-based auction house said it was the highest price for a sports collectible sold at Heritage Auctions.

The belt is one of the most expensive pieces of sports memorabilia ever sold, according to Sports Collectors Daily. A 1986 World Cup jersey worn by soccer great Diego Maradona when he scored two iconic goals -- including the “Hand of God” score -- sold for $9.2 million on May 3, and the 1892 Olympic manifesto sold for $8.8 million in December 2019, according to the sports collecting website.

“After several hours of watching two bidders go back and forth over this belt, this proved to be a battle worthy of the Rumble itself,” Chris Ivy, Heritage’s director of sports auctions, said in a statement. “We’re just thrilled this extraordinary piece of boxing history -- of sports history, of cultural history – found such an exceptional caretaker who will now share it with the rest of the world.”

In a tweet, Irsay hinted that the belt will be included in upcoming exhibits of his memorabilia collection at Chicago’s Navy Pier on Aug. 2 and at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sept. 9.

In May, Irsay was the winning bidder for the guitar played by late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in the 1991 music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” paying $5.4 million to win the Julien’s Auctions item.

The WBC belt owned by Ali came from the collection of the boxer’s longtime cornerman, Bundini Brown, Sports Collectors Daily reported. It sold for $358,500 in 2016. It sold again in 2017, but for $231,500 less. A second WBC belt owned by Ali is being traded on the Collectable fractional shares platform.

Irsay’s collection includes a diverse selection of items from American history, pop culture and sports, Sports Illustrated reported. Irsay estimated the value of his collection at $100 million, according to Bloomberg. Irsay owns the black Stratocaster guitar of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s drum kit, ESPN reported. He also owns documents written by America’s founding fathers.

Irsay’s sports holdings include the shoes Ali wore in the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” bout against Joe Frazier, ESPN reported. Earlier this year, Irsay bought the walkout robe Ali wore in his first fight after changing his name from Cassius Clay -- the 1965 “Phantom Punch” rematch victory against Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine.