LEGEND: Muhammad Ali in 2006. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREAS MEIER
LEGEND: Muhammad Ali in 2006. Picture: REUTERS/ANDREAS MEIER

LONDON — Boxing idol Muhammad Ali’s gloves from the "most important sporting event in history" and pieces of his childhood home are among the artefacts at an exhibition in London honouring "The Greatest".

The vast show opens on Friday at London’s 02 Arena and traces the story of the boxer from his childhood, through his glittering and brutal career to his elevation as a cultural and political icon.

The 100 items at the "I Am The Greatest" show include one of his robes, embroidered with his famous "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" mantra, and a dazzling rhinestone and jewelled boxing gown given to him by rock ’n roll legend Elvis Presley in 1973.

Visitors will also be able to see the wooden doorframe from his childhood home in Louisville, Kentucky, and white boots used during his fight with Jimmy Young with soles worn from repeated "Ali shuffles".

On show in the city where they became infamous are Ali’s gloves from his bout against British fighter Henry Cooper at Wembley Stadium in 1963, the left one carrying a large rip.

Ali’s legendary trainer Angelo Dundee admitted he opened the tear to buy his fighter time to recover in the corner after being knocked down by Cooper’s fearsome left hook.

The show examines Ali’s political journey from pariah, after refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, to counterculture trail-blazer and later to establishment hero feted by a string of presidents.

The event is co-curated by best-selling Ali author Davis Miller, who stressed Ali’s importance as a man and cultural figure. "It features his iconic moments, it has numerous artefacts, but the biggest thing here is story," he said.

Co-curator Angie Marches said: "Everyone either knows the boxer, or the gentleman who has Parkinson’s or the guy who could say poetry at the top of a dime."

More than 20,000 have signed a British petition to give Ali an honorary knighthood, and Miller said that London was "the best place in the world" to hold the exhibition.

"Londoners have always had a particular affinity for Ali," he said.

"Ali himself feels a similar affinity for Londoners, he has felt understood and admired here when he was reviled and loathed in the US."

Miller showed off the gloves worn by Ali during his 1971 defeat to Joe Frazier at New York’s Madison Square Garden, more commonly known as "the Fight of The Century", or simply "The Fight".

"It’s certainly the most important sporting event in history, without exception," Miller said.