Muhammad Ali: A card celebration on what would have been his 79th birthday

A guided tour of a few of 'The Greatest' items in my collection

There was no boxing of note over the weekend, but Sunday would have been the great Muhammad Ali’s 79th birthday.

So, I spent part of the day watching old footage and looking at some of the many cards of the “The Greatest” in my boxing collection, and then it dawned on me – I thought I would share a few of them with you in today’s edition of Fight Freaks Unite.

I hope you enjoy checking them out as much as I have enjoyed collecting them! If you like this sort of thing or want to know more about these cards or others, leave a message in the comments section and we can discuss.

Rookie card?

What is Ali’s rookie card? Collectors have debated the issue for years but this is one of the top candidates. It’s a 1960 ESCO (Exhibit Supply Company) card and one of the earliest known Ali collectibles. It’s larger than a typical trading card but smaller than a traditional postcard and has a blank back. It’s made of nice card stock. ESCO produced exhibit cards for decades depicting athletes, including many boxers, and celebrities. One of the series, produced from 1958 to 1962, was of 16 boxers and included Ali. ESCO cards were available randomly for one penny in arcade vending machines. PSA, for reasons that are not clear to me, does not grade cards from this set, but it’s still an awesome card, is pretty tough to find in top condition and has a classic photo.

Quiz time

Here is another of the various candidates some consider to be Ali’s rookie card. It’s a scarce card from the 1964 Mac Robertson's Olympic quiz card game that was sold in Australia ahead of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It is slightly smaller in size than a traditional trading card. PSA has graded 25 in total with one rated at the 10 level, two at 9 and two more at 8. They are extremely scarce.

Popular choice

Here’s another obvious candidate as Ali’s rookie card and the one I personally consider the real deal. It’s from the little-known 1965 Lampo set from Italy that was distributed in packs. The cards are slightly smaller than traditional trading cards and there are two versions. There is the “Edizioni” version and the “Collezioni” version. The “Edizioni” version has Italian commentary on the back. The “Collezioni” version has mostly a blank back except for the card number and brand name. Mine was mislabeled by PSA. It says it’s the “Edizioni” version but it’s actually the “Collezioni” version based on the wording on the back. Nonetheless, both versions are extremely rare, slabbed or not. Between both versions PSA has only graded a total of 24 (none is higher than 7).

Another rookie candidate

Many consider the 1966 Panini sticker from Italy to be Ali's true rookie as it was the first widely distributed card depicting him that came in a pack produced by a major company. It features Ali (then Cassius Clay) in a commonly used image from the 1960 Olympics. These cards are extremely condition sensitive because they are printed on very thin paper. Most were peeled off the backing paper and pasted into the sticker album produced to house the multi-sport set. There are only 80 graded by PSA. There are none graded at the gem mint 10 level. This is one of nine graded at the 9 level.

Super cool

I dare say there is no card cooler than one of two super heroes — Ali and Superman — together on one mint card. So who would win? This card comes from the 1978 Samlarsaker set of mixed subjects from Sweden. For example, the set includes cards of other athletes, my favorite rock band KISS, the Bee Gees and the movie Star Wars. PSA has graded 40 total Ali-Superman examples. There are two at the 10 level and 15 at the 9 level. Truly, one of my all-time favorite boxing cards.

Eat your Twinkies

This one is from the 1983 Hostess Olympians set and features a classic pose of Ali (then Cassius Clay) from the 1960 Olympics. Cards in the set came on three-card panels on the bottom of boxes of Hostess snack cakes. Buy Twinkies, get cards! This one was meticulously cut from the box. They are quite difficult to find in gem mint condition. PSA has only graded 22 Ali cards from the set and five are at the 10 level.

Oversized sticker

Here's another really nice looking Ali card of the many in my collection. This is from a 1980 Panini sticker set from Italy of various athletes, including the first-ever Sugar Ray Leonard card (sticker) issued. They are larger than a normal trading card. This one is in immaculate condition and I need to get it graded by PSA. They are pretty tough to find so nice.

Magazine bonus

Here’s another Ali “card” in my collection and one that was difficult to find. Ali shares a panel with three other notable heavyweights from the 1980s — Tim Witherspoon, Gerrie Coetzee and Gerry Cooney — on the inside back cover of an issue of the long-defunct Fight Beat magazine. It’s not on card stock, it’s not a sticker and it’s made of just regular magazine paper but still very cool nonetheless and a great collectible! The 24-card set was issued over six issues of the magazine from 1983 to 1984 and is filled with other big names of the era, including Larry Holmes, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, Aaron Pryor, Ray Mancini, Edwin Rosario, Wilfred Benitez, Hector Camacho, Donald Curry and even Don King (the only non-fighter in the set).

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