ST. LOUIS (CN) — A Muhammad Ali memorabilia collector sued Sotheby’s auction house and authenticators, claiming they induced him to spend $35,100 on a boxing robe and training trunks allegedly used by the champ.
John Weldon sued Sotheby’s, SCP Auctions, JO Sports and JO Sports owner Craig Hamilton on Monday in St. Louis County Court.
Weldon, a longtime collector of Ali memorabilia, says he has traded, sold and exchanged Ali gear with JO Sports and Hamilton over many years without a problem. In 2005, he says, the defendants notified him of the pending sale of a robe Ali used in his 1975 fight with Chuck Wepner, and trunks Ali used while training for his fight with Leon Spinks.
Weldon says the Wepner robe is particularly valuable because that fight inspired Sylvester Stallone to write “Rocky.”
Wepner, who supplemented his boxing career by working full-time as a liquor salesman, was known as the “Bayonne Bleeder.” He was a heavy underdog, but took Ali into the 15th round, until the referee stopped the fight with 19 seconds to go.
Stallone watched the fight, learned Wepner’s story, and was inspired him to write the iconic film. Later, Wepner unsuccessfully sued Stallone seeking a share of the profits.
Weldon bid $30,000 for the robe and won it, and spent another $5,100 on the training trunks. He held onto them from December 2005 to the summer of 2016, allowing their value to appreciate and never doubting their authenticity.
According to the complaint, in the summer of 2016, Weldon presented the robe and trunks to Heritage Auctions, for their Sept. 30 auction. He says the value of the robe alone was listed at $40,000-plus.
However, “On August 8, 2016, Mr. Hamilton called Heritage Auctions to advise that he no longer stood by his July 25, 2002 letter of authentication of the Ali Fight Robe,” the complaint. “He stated that he was no longer of the opinion that Ali wore the Robe in the Ali-Wepner fight. His authentication was meaningless. The now so-called Ali Fight Robe was just a garment with Ali’s name on it, which may have been worn by Ali at some point in some training or fight, but not in the historic Ali-Wepner fight.”
Weldon says that neither Hamilton nor JO Sports ever contacted him about problems with the robe’s authenticity, but because Hamilton rescinded his authentication, Heritage refused to include the robe in its auction.
Weldon says Hamilton also changed his authentication of the training trunks. Rather than being used for the Spinks fight, Hamilton decided that the trunks were used during Ali’s training at Deer Lake, which made them significantly less valuable.
“By December 10, 2005, JO Sports and Mr. Hamilton knew or should have known by review of their large reference library of recordings and pictorial publications that they routinely rely upon in making attributions that the so-called Ali Fight Robe was not in fact worn in the famous and iconic 1975 Ali-Wepner prize fight, and was falsely so attributed,” the complaint states.
Weldon says an authentic robe would have brought in more than $75,000 today, and authentic trunks more than $17,000. And he says he had no reason to doubt Hamilton’s authenticity, due to his reputation.
“JO Sports and its owner, operator, and principal employee, Mr. Hamilton, hold themselves out as, and in fact are, the foremost authenticators of Mr. Ali sporting gear memorabilia in the World,” the complaint states. “Upon information and belief, together, they own the largest boxing collection in the world. At all relevant times, including the present, no reputable auction house would or will sell Mr. Ali sporting gear memorabilia without authentication by JO Sports and Mr. Hamilton. JO Sports and Mr. Hamilton heretofore enjoyed sterling reputations for accuracy and honesty in and among the world of collectors of Mr. Ali sporting gear memorabilia.”
Weldon claims Sotheby’s and SCP accepted and endorsed the Ali gear from JO Sports and Hamilton.
None of the defendants responded to emails seeking comment Wednesday.
Weldon seeks punitive damages for fraud and violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
He is represented by Kathryn Koch with Goldstein & Pressman in St. Louis.