In 1960, a few months after winning a gold medal in the Rome Olympics, Cassius Clay turned pro. He would make Miami his base, putting his career in the hands of Chris and Angelo Dundee – fight promoters who trained boxers at the Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach.
On February 25, 1964 Ali, who was still fighting under his birth name Cassius Clay, became an international celebrity. The cocky 22-year-old was a massive underdog on the marquee fight which was held at the Miami Beach Convention Center against the reigning champ, Sonny Liston.
Clay defeated Liston on a TKO in the 7th round and the rest, as they say, is history.
His connection to Miami didn’t end with that huge win. The very next day he converted to Islam and while living in Miami, Muhammad Ali, became a living legend. He trained for years in the 5th Street Gym, a humid space on the second floor of a building at Fifth Street and Washington Avenue in South Beach.
It was in Miami where he uttered his most famous line, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” at the weigh-in for his 1964 bout with Liston. It was also here that he began voicing his objection to the Vietnam War in a statement in front of his home, “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong.”
It was at the World Famous 5th Street Gym, which back then was a “scruffy loft above a liquor shop and drugstore,” according to the Miami Herald, where Ali put on a show for those who wandered into the gym.
The Jackson Five, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra were among the many that visited Ali in the 5th Street Gym.
Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, but Muhammad Ali was born in Miami. Ferdie Pacheco – Ali’s longtime fight doctor and friend
During the early 1960s, the hotels and beaches in Miami Beach were segregated, and across Biscayne Bay on the mainland, the civil rights movement was alive. Miami’s black Overtown district was a place for vibrant live music that attracted the greatest jazz musicians of the era. Black Muslims were very active in Miami, and Cassius Clay, who greatly admired their message, got involved with them.
Some of Ali’s most famous pictures were taken during his time spent in Miami.
The Dundees were working hard to keep Clay’s alliance with the Black Muslims quiet, which if made public threatened to cancel the fight.
Ali had in actuality converted to Islam in 1963, under the inspiration of Malcolm X, but he kept his new faith a secret until the heavyweight crown was safely in hand.
(1 day later in Miami)
It is said that without the fight vs Liston, Cassius Clay may have never become Muhammad Ali and the legend may have never evolved. It can also be said that without Miami the desire is never inspired. Many historic figures have made their way through Miami so it is fitting that the Greatest of All Time became known to the world via Miami as Muhammad Ali.