ALI AND THE
FIFTH STREET GYM
from IT HAPPENED IN
by Myrna Katz
and Harvey Frommer
With the passing of one of our all-time
favorites, with affection for Muhammad Ali and his memory, we proudly present
Clay was born in
Louisville. But Muhammad Ali was born in Miami.”
The Fifth Street Gym on Fifth
Street and Washington Avenue was
iconic. People came there from all walks of life. There was no air
conditioning. It was musty. It smelled of sweat -- boxers sweat. There
back room with a bed and mattress, a place where the boxers would
ROSEN: There was no
elevator. You had to walk up two
flights of steps to the first floor. Sitting right there at a table
who ran the gym. He used to
charge 25 cents to let people in to
see the fighters train. If he knew you, you paid nothing.
I remember one guy didn't want to pay the quarter because, he said, he
my pants," he was told.
1960, after Ali – the young Cassius Clay
then -- won the Olympic light heavyweight championship gold medal, he
managed by the people that made Seagram's Whiskey in Louisville,
Those people had him come down here to Miami to be trained and managed
Angelo Dundee who got him a little apartment in Overtown.
was when I met Cassius Clay. He came to my office in the ghetto in
North West Second Avenue and 10th Street. I thought he was the most exceptional
looking individual I had ever seen in a boxer. He was beautiful, he was
shapely, all his muscles were in the right places. And he was extremely
fast with his mouth, talked all the time. He was not an intelligent man in the
He was totally instinctive, just did the right thing , and he
was very funny. He could charm
anyone even my usually uncharmable old Baptist Church nurse,
Miss Mabel Norwood, who summed him up: “That boy is either going to be
champion of the world or he’s crazy.”
Ali was a
solitary figure then with nobody to keep him company, an 18-year-old,
the big city of Miami, trying to find out what it was like. He had no guy friends. He had no
girlfriends. All he had was the Fifth
Street Gym and Angelo Dundee and Chris Dundee. That’s who he had. But
two months, he had taken over. He was a magnetic figure.
The whole town was following him around. If
you hung around him, you became attached to him and were under his
PACHECO: Ali was such
person. He didn’t care about getting dressed up, he would always wear
was so kind to everyone. He would collect antique cars, ride around in
cars, and talk with Ferdie.
I was a dancer
and dance teacher, and from my
expert point of view, he was very light on his feet.
DAVE ROGERS: Sarria, a Latin guy, would
massage Ali in the back room, work his muscles with the cream and all
that. Once when Ali was getting his
massage and workout, I tried to get into the room, and this big black
guy -- he was wearing one of those hats that look like yarmulkes – was
at the door blocking my way. “Man, you can’t come in here,” he said.
But Ali overruled him. “Hey, that’s my man
said. That came from the time I was wearing a little beard like
and the cut man, Angelo Dundee, introduced me to Ali saying: “This is
Jesus Christ.” After that, and for all
the years that I knew him, Ali called me Jesus.
saw things between Angelo and Ali
that most people didn’t see, didn’t know. There was such a close tie.
seemed to have a great love for Angelo, and Angelo for him. He would put his arm next to Angelo who was
Italian and had dark skin, and he’d say, “Angelo, you a nigger; you
more of a
nigger than I am.” But lovingly.
BERNIE ROSEN: Angelo and his brother
Chris founded the Fifth Street Gym in the
fifties. Angelo was one of the top trainers in the 20th
was a promoter of the fights in the Miami Beach auditorium, the place
Jackie Gleason would eventually put on his shows. I would go over every
Monday and do a preview of the fights, and Chris would put on shows
Tuesday night. We used to shoot one of the fights and run it back to
station to have it processed and put on the air. That was a huge thing
DAVE ROGERS: We used to go to Wolfie’s
after the Tuesday night fights: Angelo, Chris, Ferdie Pacheco -- the
doctor who had a medical practice in Liberty City and would regale us
kinds of stories -- and Jimmy Ellis, the fighter. They were all part of
“Angelo, give me a couple of
dollies,” Ali would say. Dollies, not dollars. Angelo would support
who needed money. He kept one pocket for singles and one pocket for
Every day, I’d pick up Angelo, and
we’d go to the gym. A lot of people came to the gym, guys from all
life. They would come off the street, up the steps, and there on the
would be this little guy sitting at a desk, always with a cigar. That
Emmet, a true Damon Runyon character.
I was in the insurance business and
insured a place on 23rd Street called Ollie’s. It had great
and hamburgers with special seasoning.
Ollie had a girlfriend, Terry. They
would argue; the language was terrible. Whenever he and Terry had a
go out in the back and smoke his cigar. He was always smoking a cigar.
Sometimes the ashes would fall on the hamburgers. “Ah,” he’d say,
makes it good.”
I took Ali to Ollie’s. There was a
bus outside filled with a class of kids. Ali went over to the bus and
he was boxing, hitting the window of the bus. Then we went in. I said
“You’ll get only one Ollie burger.
That’s all you’ll get.” (In those days they would name a burger after someone.)
Ali said, “I want
“You can’t get another
Then Ollie came over.
“Ali, for you, there’s another one.”
Angelo brought Moe Fleisher along.
He was a guy who sold boxing shows from New York and was publisher of Ring Magazine.
We’d go out for lunch,
and Moe would invariably say “I have to go meet the girl.” The girl
the Tropics Hotel on Collins Avenue and 15th Street (I wrote
insurance for the building). He was 86 at the time; she was 84.
Once I was with Moe in the
Convention Center. We go to the bathroom. He’s standing next to me in
the latrine. Before anything starts, he looks down and he says “Son of
you died before I did.” That was Moe Fleisher.
Another time at the Convention
Center, Ali’s standing next to me. “Muhammad,” I tell him, “One of the
at the gym is gay.”
He says, “Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you; he’ll beat the
crap out of me.”
“Tell me. No one’s gonna touch you.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Come on, you gotta tell me.”
I say, “Bend over, I’ll whisper it
He bends over. I kiss him on the
cheek. He slides down the wall, hysterical.
I called Ali the Pied Piper of
Hamelin. He would talk to everyone, give autographs to everyone. He was
PACHECO: When Ali was at
the Fifth Street
Gym, chairs were lined up all around the ring. People would scream and
he shadow-boxed around. Other fighters were training there, but it was
packed the way it was when he was there.
KRUTEL: I’d see Ali there,
him spar, sit on his lap. The Fifth Street Gym had to be the greatest
location on Miami Beach when it came to sports. I
used to go there with my father and a group of guys. We
Liston fight there. My father would be in the huddle in the ring; he
shot it on
16 mm. My father was best friends with
Angelo Dundee. I saw the training that was done with Angelo. I saw
Pacheo, the most famous fight doctor ever known in sports, and his wife
at the gym. They were my mom’s dear friends.
Fight Doctor” name for me was New York stuff. That
was hardly all that I was. I was a scholar who gave
Harvard and all over.
liked every boxer I ever took care of. I was a hero to people because I
taking care of their heroes. There is something ennobling about taking
people who are on their last legs, 18, 19 years old and they don’t know
do with themselves.
Cuban boxers were my favorites.
They came to Miami completely lost. They were political exiles and had
oppressed, horribly. I took them into my house and let them sleep in
garage. I had a Cuban maid. She was a great cook, and she cooked the
liked, lots of it. They all made money and all became champions.
met Angelo Dundee around the time
I came to Miami to live. “I like boxing and jazz,” I told him. “Any boxer that gets cut I will sew him up
for nothing. I will take care of his medical needs. For the rest of
you will never have to write out a check for me. On the other hand, I
ticket to every fight you promote -- for me and my wife and maybe more
want to bring friends.”
He got a good deal. So did I. He
saved himself at least a hundred, two hundred thousand dollars. For my
because of Ali, worlds of interest opened up to me that I had never
met the Queen of England, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, the Beatles,
Elvis. Through the 1960s and 1970s,
everyone who was anyone was at our door. They all wanted to be with
I met Budd Schulberg. He liked being
at the Fifth Street Gym. He loved boxing. He was a great writer, a
writer. He wrote On the Waterfront, The
Harder They Fall among other top
writings. I had written a very good
novel of my growing up. It delineated the society of Tampa and Ibor
than anybody else has ever written it. I asked him if he would read
what I had
agreed that he would come over to my house at ten the next morning. He
to have a good bottle of vodka for him. I had a case ready. He went
backyard with the manuscript, sat under the shade tree, and began to
stayed with me for two days and read it straight through. He edited it
and did not make many changes. He said he liked it a lot and if it
published, it will be a shame. However, he couldn’t get it published
for me. I
couldn’t get it published either.
Schulberg was extremely helpful to me, and I was extremely helpful to
that was because of Ali. Because I knew Ali, people wanted to know me,
(to be continued)
acclaimed sports author and oral historian Harvey Frommer, with an
intro by pro
football Hall of Famer Frank Gifford, When It Was Just a Game tells the
fascinating story of the ground-breaking AFL–NFL World Championship
game played on January 15, 1967: Packers vs. Chiefs. Filled with new
containing commentary from the unpublished memoir of Kansas City Chiefs
Hank Stram, featuring oral history from many who were at the
players, coaches, fans—the book is mainly in the words of those who
and saw it go on to become the Super Bowl, the greatest sports
world has ever known. Archival photographs and drawings help bring the
Frommer is in his 39th year of writing books. A noted oral historian
journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics:
“New York City Baseball, 1947-1957″ and best-selling Shoeless Joe and
Baseball, his acclaimed Remembering Yankee Stadium and best-selling