John Conteh (photo: Tom Murphy)

A former world boxing champion who was close to fighting “The Greatest” – Muhammad Ali – in his heyday has donated some of his prized memorabilia to a new art gallery in Liverpool.

Liverpool-born John Conteh became the WBC world light-heavyweight boxing champion in October 1974 and the green and gold belt he held for four years is being placed in the new Museum of Liverpool when it opens in 2011.

Conteh is regarded as one of the all time best boxing champions to have come out of the UK with 39 professional fights, 34 wins, one draw and a mere four losses.

The former boxer claimed Ali persuaded him to fight at the smaller light-heavyweight division, rather than the American’s heavyweight limit of above 14 st 4Ib on the scales, because Ali thought he was too small for the bigger weight class.

By taking Ali’s advice, Conteh successfully defended his WBC title three times, the final time in front of his home crowd at the legendary Liverpool Stadium on 5 March 1977.

Born 27 May 1951, Conteh started boxing aged 11 at Kirkby Amateur Boxing Club, going on to win middleweight gold at the British Commonwealth Games in 1970 before gaining his world title.

As well as his professional world championship belt, Conteh is also loaning the Museum of Liverpool boxing gloves he wore in title fights and the striking red gown worn for his successful defence in Liverpool and the Lonsdale Trophy which was awarded to him following this win.

The memorabilia will go into the Creative City gallery of Museum of Liverpool, which will be one of the first to open in the new museum, celebrating the creative personality of Liverpool and uncovering why the city has produced such an amazing roll call of writers, poets, performers, musicians, visual artists, comedians and sports people.

Paul Gallagher, curator of contemporary collecting at National Museums Liverpool said: “Boxing has played an important part in Liverpool’s fabulous sporting heritage, and the Creative City gallery will feature a sporting section with a special exhibition focused on telling the story of the sport. Boxing Clever will display – amongst other objects – John Conteh’s WBC title belt, and the boxing gloves and boots he wore during the successful challenge of the title in October 1974.

“It’s a real coup to be able to include these objects in the display. The city has produced a wealth of champion fighters through the years but John Conteh’s achievements make him a true Liverpool great and arguably the city’s finest. It’s a privilege to be able to recognise his achievements in the Museum of Liverpool using objects that were integral to his personal story.”

Conteh retired from the sport of boxing in 1980 following three failed attempts to win back his world crown, which he was stripped of after not going through with a mandatory defence.

The boxer was also equally known for his partying and enjoyment of alcohol during his glittering career which some observers have said restricted him from becoming even greater than he was. These days Conteh is a popular after dinner speaker.