Legendary 5th Street Gym Back In Business - “The Greatest” Makes Sure A Huge Crowd Welcomes It Back!

By James Slater - To much fanfare, the legendary 5th Street Gym in Miami, Florida re-opened yesterday, some seven or so years after the original gym (which stood a few steps away from the where the new building is) was torn down. 60 years on from the year Chris Dundee and his brother Angelo opened the boxing facility that became so much more than a sweaty, un-air conditioned gym - with stars of the cinema and other celebrities frequenting the place many times during 5th Street’s heyday - a long list of V.I.P.s was on hand to watch Angelo Dundee cut the red ribbon..

Names Bert Sugar, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, George Chuvalo, Pinklon Thomas Shannon Briggs and others made up the star list, but one man undeniably stole the show - just as anyone who knows anything about boxing knew he would. “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, now a frail and sickly 68-years-old who has been and continues to be ravaged by Parkinson’s, showed up by way of a personal favour for his old trainer and corner-man.

The guests in attendance were told not to take any photos of Ali, let they be “asked to leave,” but writer Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald reports how a number of people took pictures anyway. How could they resist grabbing a quick, once-in-a-lifetime photograph of the most beloved and at one time controversial boxer in the history of all sports? They couldn’t, even if it is hard as well as sad to look at “The Butterfly” today.

Reports from writers like Robertson, who described the experience of seeing today’s Ali as “a privilege tinged with sadness,” describe yesterday’s scene in Miami: how Ali, struggling to even walk, arrived after a number of fans and guests had left the sweltering building, and how he was unable to utter a single word upon being seated behind a roped-off area. Instead of trying to speak, Ali instead leafed through a copy of the G.O.A.T book written in his honour. Even needing help doing this on occasion (89-year-old Dundee, still as fit, sharp and healthy as can be imagined, provided the helping hand), Ali reportedly looked a sad figure.

Still, Ali chose to be there yesterday, when he could easily have stayed at home, away from the eyes that were transfixed on his ailing form. And there is no sense of self pity on the former three-time heavyweight king’s part. Dundee, in talking to Robertson, maintains how the finest fighter he ever worked with remains fully aware of what’s going on around him, and Angelo also makes it clear that Ali chose to live his life the way he wanted to.

“He did what he wanted to do with his life,” Angelo said. “Nobody pushed him or forced him. It’s his life. I was there at the beginning and I was there at the end. And I’m still here.”

Indeed he is, still training fighters, even looking for the next U.S heavyweight champ. But Angelo continues to ask why with regards to why his good friend was struck down by the savage and unrelenting disease he has been battling since 1984 (if not sooner).

“I thought Muhammad would beat Parkinson’s” Dundee said. “I hoped they would find a cure. Why him, of all people?”

Why Ali, indeed? Was the all-time great struck down by the disease simply because he carried on fighting way too long, taking hundreds of avoidable punches as a result? Or would the man once known as Cassius Clay have been affected by the disease even if he had quit in, say, 1974 or ’75? Of course we will never know. But Ali is fighting Parkinson’s with the same guts he showed when he battled a who’s who of heavyweight contenders and rival champions, and he refuses to stop making public appearances like the one he made yesterday.

Thanks to Ali, a big crowd showed up at the opening of the new 5th Street gym, and now the Dundee, Tom Tsatas, Matt Baiamonte project can look ahead to the future. With Angelo’s 60-plus years of experience, maybe the new 5th Street Gym will indeed produce the first American heavyweight champion in years?

Article posted on 25.09.2010

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