Joe Elsby Martin was Muhammad Ali’s First Boxing Teacher.

Joe Elsby Martin was Muhammad Ali’s First Boxing Teacher.

Joe Elsby Martin came to Louisville Kentucky in 1937 and joined the Louisville Police Department, serving until his retirement in 1974. In 1938, he became a boxing coach at the local recreation center called Columbia Gym in Louisville (now the student center of Spalding University).

In 1954, a twelve-year-old then known as Cassius Clay approached Martin to report that his bicycle had been stolen and told Martin that he wanted to “whup” the thief. Martin offered to teach him how to box and guided his career for the next six years. As a 1960 Olympic coach, Martin accompanied the champion to the Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, when Ali won a gold medal.

In the 1950s and 1960’s, Martin helped produce a weekly television show on WAVE-TV called Tomorrow’s Champions, which was broadcast for twelve years. After winning the gold medal, Ali began his professional career but maintained contact with Martin until his death. In the 1970’s, Martin appeared on a nationally-televised episode of “This Is Your Life,” when Ali was the featured guest. In 1977, Martin was inducted into the Amateur Boxing Hall of Fame.

Several news stories quote Ali crediting Martin with having shown him how to “fly like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” While coaching at the Columbia Gym, Martin also trained world heavyweight champion Jimmy Ellis as well as eleven National Golden Gloves champions.

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