Sun, Jul 03, 2016 - Page 10 News List

Young boxers in Louisville hope to emulate hero Ali


Students train at the TKO Boxing Club in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 7.

Photo: AFP

In a nondescript concrete building in Louisville, Kentucky, the smell of sweat hung in the air as two teenagers in protective helmets and boxing gloves traded blows at lightning speed, propelled by shouts of encouragement.

Sunshine streamed in from a skylight overhead to illuminate the action at the center of Louisville TKO Boxing Club, where the heirs to Muhammad Ali’s storied legacy are determined to do him proud.

Louisville is the hometown and final resting place of the legendary fighter, who was buried there on June 10 in a send-off befitting the three-time heavyweight champion.

At TKO, teens train in the hopes they might be the next Cassius Clay.

On any given day, about 80 youths can be found training here, buoyed by the same quest for greatness that spurred Ali — even if they know that boxing legends like him are rare.

“Nobody is close to Muhammad Ali — he is way above everybody else,” said 17-year-old Jeffrey Clancy. “He was so much ahead of his time, it was ridiculous — nobody had really seen fast feet like that in the heavyweight division.”

Jeffrey began boxing 60 years after a young Cassius Clay took up the sport. The young Louisville upstart came to be known for his way with words, but first he learned to let his fists do the talking in the boxing ring.

Clay started training in 1954 at the age of 12 — about the same age as many of the children at TKO — training at a nearby gym that is now part of Spalding University, at a time when Louisville was a segregated city at the crossroads of the Midwest and the Deep South.

He changed his name to Muhammad Ali and rose to become not just Louisville’s favorite son, but, at the height of his fame, “The Champ” — a US and global phenomenon.

Even after his death, Ali remains a larger-than-life presence, nowhere more so than in the minds of the up-and-coming boxers following in his prodigious footsteps.

Stephanie Malone, 24, a recent boxing recruit, said she has adopted Ali’s credo as her own.

“Be yourself and do not let anybody dictate who you are, your drive, your determination,” Malone said, summing up what she said is the crux of Ali’s message.

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