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Florida Boxing Hall of Fame founder’s memorabilia to be auctioned

The nearly 2,000 pieces include a Cassius Clay autograph, signed after the icon had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
John Harris, who is an auctioneer, shows boxing memorabilia once owned by late founder of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Butch Flansburg at Alessi Ringside Gym and Fitness in Tampa.
John Harris, who is an auctioneer, shows boxing memorabilia once owned by late founder of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame Butch Flansburg at Alessi Ringside Gym and Fitness in Tampa. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 4

TAMPA — Walter Flansburg had a passion for sharing his passion for professional boxing, first as a photographer for the sport’s magazines, and later as president of the National Boxing Association and founder of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.

“He just loved boxing,” said his widow Kathy Flansburg.

He died in February at 77, but Flansburg will posthumously share his passion one last time when about 2,000 pieces of his boxing memorabilia are auctioned on July 23, from noon to 6 p.m. at the Alessi Ringside Gym and Fitness in Tampa.

An in-person public viewing will be held at the gym noon to 6 p.m. July 22.

Some items are now available for bids online at harrisauctionsllc.com. Those same items will be up for bid in person at the July 23 auction, too. The remaining pieces will only be available in person.

Memorabilia includes autographs, boxing trunks and championship belts spanning the history of the sport.

John Harris, who is an auctioneer, shows an Ebony magazine featuring a cover photograph of Floyd Patterson with his wife and newborn baby.
John Harris, who is an auctioneer, shows an Ebony magazine featuring a cover photograph of Floyd Patterson with his wife and newborn baby. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“This is a boxing fan’s dream,” auctioneer John Harris told the Tampa Bay Times in mid-June, as he perused the collection, pointing out some of the greats represented. “Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Muhammad Ali, Hector Camacho, ‘Razor’ Ruddock, Willie Pep, Alex Stewart, Michael Dokes, Joe Frazier, Michael Moore, ‘The Raging Bull’ Jake LaMotta, Larry Holmes. I could go on and on and on. It’s overwhelming.”

Among Harris’ favorite pieces is a 1957 Ebony magazine featuring a cover photograph of Floyd Patterson with his wife and newborn baby. It is autographed by Patterson.

“What a great piece of Americana,” Harris said. “How precious.”

Kathy Flansburg said the rarest piece is also the most controversial — a 1956 Max Schmeling trading card featuring the Nazi swastika. Schmeling was a heavyweight champion before Adolf Hitler rose to power but continued to represent the nation as it embraced Nazism. Due to a public outcry, the trading card ceased being printed shortly after the release.

Related: First Puerto Rican to fight a heavyweight champ gets a West Tampa mural

Phil Alessi Jr., who is hosting the auction, has his eyes on an oversized boxing glove with a Cassius Clay autograph, signed when the three-time heavyweight champion had already legally changed his name to Ali.

Ali famously taunted opponent Ernie Terrell by asking, “What’s my name?” in an easy victory because, in the build up to the fight, Terrell repeatedly called Ali by his birth name to get under his skin.

“I was originally a cynic on that autograph’s validity,” Harris said. “And I reached inside the glove and found this.”

Harris then held up a photograph of Ali signing the glove.

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“They were friends,” Kathy Flansburg said of her husband and Ali.

John Harris with a Cassius Clay autograph, signed when the three-time heavyweight champion had already legally changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and a photograph of the signing.
John Harris with a Cassius Clay autograph, signed when the three-time heavyweight champion had already legally changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and a photograph of the signing. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Flansburg was a boxing photographer who gained access to Miami’s famed 5th Street Gym where Ali trained under Angelo Dundee.

“His ability to capture the action, chronicle a fight, and project riveting images from the ring, led to his work being featured in The Boxing Digest and Boxing World” magazines, reads his obituary. Through that gym, he also befriended “Alberto Duran, and Alexis Arguello. He would find himself in the company of other public figures such as James Caan.”

He relocated to Tampa in 1986 and started a bathtub installation business, but boxing remained a priority.

From 1997 to 2018, he served as president of the National Boxing Association, now called the World Boxing Association.

And in 2009, Flansburg founded The Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.

“The International Boxing Hall of Fame is one town over in Canastota. So he would go there almost every year and say we need to do something like this in Florida. We were nervous. I told him that if people don’t show up, this is coming out of our pocket. We hoped for 75 people. More than 200 showed up to the first event and the rest is history.”

John Harris showing a 1956 Max Schmeling trading card featuring the Nazi swastika
John Harris showing a 1956 Max Schmeling trading card featuring the Nazi swastika [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Today, the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame has a physical location in Fort Myers.

Through all his boxing ventures, Flansburg remained a fan obsessed with memorabilia, his widow said.

“It started in the 1970s and never ended. He was always hunting at antique shops, book fairs, everywhere. He loved collecting. He loved boxing. He loved sharing his love for the sport. The auction allows him to do it again.”

If you go

Walter Flansburgs boxing memorabilia auction

When: Noon to 6 p.m. July 23, or online at harrisauctionsllc.com

Where: Alessi Ringside Gym and Fitness, 5202 Eagle Trail Drive, Tampa

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