Muhammad Ali Once Made Miami the Center of the Boxing Universe

Muhammad Ali, who died last night at 74 years old, left behind so many towering legacies that writing a proper obit for the man is a task worthy of Dostoevsky. Ali was the greatest boxing champ of all time, but also a huge figure in the civil rights fight and massive player in the anti-Vietnam war movement.

Among his many lasting accomplishments was to put Miami squarely at the center of the international boxing world.  He won the first huge fight that thrust him into fame at the Miami Beach Convention Center, trained for years in South Beach, and took some of his most iconic photos in South Florida

It was February 1964 when Ali, then fighting under his birth name Cassius Clay, became an international celebrity. The cocky 22-year-old was a huge underdog on the marquee fight at the Miami Beach Convention Center against Sonny Liston, the reigning champ. 

Instead, Ali dominated Liston in the sixth round and the champ conceded in the seventh.

Ali's connection to Miami didn't end with that huge win. He trained for years in the 5th Street Gym, a humid space on the second floor of a building at Fifth Street and Washington Avenue in South Beach under legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.

Some of Ali's most iconic photos came from his time in Miami. Arguably his most famous posed shot, with fists raised underwater, was taken by photographer Flip Schulke at the Sir John Hotel in Overtown:
Miami's place in the boxing world has waxed and waned since then, with Angelo's gym shuttering in 1992 before reopening six years ago, but Ali never forgot his ties to the Magic City.

Just four years ago, Ali made a surprise appearance to throw out the first pitch at the new Marlins Park in Little Havana. (The Marlins were widely criticized for that move — anger still seethed over the stadium deal and many felt owner Jeffrey Loria had unfairly used Ali, then heavily affected by Parkinson's Disease, to garner sympathy.)

Last night, the Marlins apparently broke news to the world that Ali had died in Phoenix, where he'd been in the hospital for respiratory complications. The team announced his death after last night's game on the jumbotron — about two hours before his family confirmed it to the press. Team president David Samson told reporters an inside source in the family had tipped the team off. 

If anyone out there in Miami has any Muhammad Ali memories of his time in South Florida, we'd love to hear them. Let us know how you'll remember the champ
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink