Ali's Robe. Worn in Zaire, made in Hammersmith

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The Independent Online
It was one of the greatest moments in sporting history. The "Rumble in the Jungle" of Zaire, where Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman in one of the classic boxing bouts of all time.

Ali strode into the ring, the great American black spokesman hailed a hero anew in Africa. Having ditched the slave's name of Cassius Clay, he acknowledged his heritage in a white and black robe decorated with African patterns and weaving.

Yet the robe, which looked African and will be forever associated with Africa was not, it emerged yesterday, African at all. It was largely woven in Hammersmith, west London.

Dr Anna Gruetzner-Robins, 47, then a young art history student, did the weaving sections for the garment, which is due to be sold at auction in America next month.

"It was pure chance," she said. A friend who knew she was a weaver recommended her to the designer Michael Fish. She worked on the project for about a month, conjuring up images of Africa and of Ali in the design.

Then, on the night of the fight in 1974, she went to watch it in a pub because she had no television. "He walked into the ring wearing it and I was amazed. I said, `Look, I made that,' and a complete drunk next to me said, `And I made his jockstrap' and I realised people wouldn't believe me."

Only later, when she read Norman Mailer's book on the fight, did she realise that the robe had been initially left behind. Ali insisted on going back for it because he liked it so much.

Dr Gruetzner-Robins, now an art historian, plans to visit Christie's, the auctioneers, in London tomorrow on the last day the robe is displayed in Britain before it is sold in Los Angeles on 19 October. Estimates have placed bids at around pounds 75,000.

"It's a very odd feeling. When I was making it I wanted it to be special. Even as a child, I can remember being completely fascinated by Ali," she said.

Michael Fish, who designed the robe with Christopher Lynch, visited the auction rooms yesterday. He, like Dr Gruetzner-Robins, has not seen the robe since the fight. "It's a bit of a treat," he said.

Mr Fish, 57, delivered the finished robe to Ali, visiting him at his training camp in Philadelphia. "He was a bit fazed by an effete youngish Englishman, but he certainly appreciated the robe. Seeing him at his camp, standing there naked, it was like God had come to earth. He was like Adonis."

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