Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) at the gym.

Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) inside gym

Why waste time? Cassius Clay was just 18 when he traveled by train from Louisville Kentucky to Miami Beach. It was December 19, 1960 and Angelo Dundee (trainer at 5th Street Gym) told him to wait until after Christmas but Cassius insisted on coming down immediately.

Hank Kaplan (boxing historian in Miami beach) recalls the very first workout:
“I was there his first day, his very first workout. He worked with a tall, lean heavyweight from Hollywood.” That was 6-foot-5 heavyweight was Tony Alongi. “I boxed him a lot of times,” recalls Alongi, an excellent fighter in his own right, who ranked just below the level of heavyweight contenders. “He was a helluva fighter.”

Gym regulars stood two rows deep around the ring to see the young Olympic champion in action.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Kaplan recalls. “All these old trainers were there. The bell rings, and the sparring session begins. The thing we noticed was when Tony Alongi threw a punch, Ali just would rear back out of the way. One of the old trainers said, ‘This kids gonna get killed.’ I’ll never forget it.”

“The young Ali had a style never before seen in a heavyweight. He held his hands low, instead of protecting his face. His peripheral vision and instincts were so acute that he didn’t have to block his opponents punches; he simply dodged them.

But his other qualities were even more remarkable. He was funny and amiable and had the handsome, unblemished features of a hero sculpted from marble. With unaffected vanity, he spoke of how “pretty” he was, and everyone could see it was true. He had undeniable charisma.”