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Muhammad Ali In Our Backyard

I never watched a Muhammad Ali fight live. I was too young, having been born in 1972. I really didn't get into boxing until a brash, violent, and menacing kid named Mike Tyson showed up. But, like most people, I knew the name Ali. Who didn't? His name was iconic.

Like a lot of people, I didn't get to know much about Muhammad until much later in life. And I also didn't know that a young boxer known as Cassius Clay arrived in Miami in the early 60s, trained in our streets, won here one of the biggest upset victories in boxing history and soon changed his name to Ali.

Credit WLRN
Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Hall in 1963. A few days later, he announces that he is a member of the Nation of Islam and his name is now Muhammad Ali.

That story was told in the 2007 WLRN documentary, Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami, written and produced by Alan Tomlinson.

Alan Tomlinson, writer and producer of the WLRN documentary, Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami.

Credit WLRN
Alan Tomlinson, writer and producer of the WLRN documentary Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami.

For younger Miamians, like me, it is odd to think that Ali used to run from Overtown to the 5th St. Gym on Miami Beach. And, along the way he would have run-ins with police because seldom was a black man allowed across the causeway. 

For those who were not here at the time it is also odd to think that Miami was a great place for boxing. But, that's why a young Clay arrived at the doorsteps of trainer Angelo Dundee. 

And it was here that Clay became Ali after joining the Nation of Islam. Amazing to think that Miami had such a profound impact on a young man, who would go on to become one of the greatest athletes in American history.

The World Famous 5th St. Gym is no longer in the same spot it once was when Clay trained. But the owners won't let the Clay/Ali legend die. From the front to back there are photos of Clay/Ali everywhere. And co-owner Dino Spencer reminds every young fighter of the significance of Ali on their careers.

Dino Spencer, co-owner of the World Famous 5th St. Gym.

Credit WLRN
Dino Spencer trains with Bilal Laggoune.

I didn't get to experience Muhammad Ali in his prime. I never saw a fight live, though I've seen many of his best on film. I never got to watch live any of Ali's poetic performances on talk shows and in front of the camera. Luckily, many of them have been recorded so we can go back and see how he oozed a playful persona and braggadocio that is seldom seen. 

What I can say is that I got to watch as this man who personified power and greatness battled Parkinsons and still held a glimmer in his eye. And Miami should always embrace the fact that here is where the legend was born.

Amateur female boxers Avril Mathie and Ali Rosen put in three rounds of sparing at the World Famous 5th St Gym.

  A video posted by Luis Hernandez (@luis.ferdy.hernandez) on Jun 4, 2016 at 10:27am PDT

Luis Hernandez is an award-winning journalist and host whose career spans three decades in cities across the U.S. He’s the host of WLRN’s newest daily talk show, Sundial (Mon-Thu), and the news anchor every afternoon during All Things Considered.