Muhammad Ali's Boxing Career

Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. was 12 years old when he and friends attended a Louisville Service Club in Columbia Gym on South Fourth Street. When he came out, he found his red bicycle had been stolen, and he told Louisville police officer Joe Martin that he wanted to “whup” whoever took it. Martin, who ran the Columbia Gym in the basement of the club, told Clay that he’d better learn to box first.

Clay quickly showed great promise as a boxer and began winning amateur bouts in Louisville. He was a perennial Golden Gloves champion from 1957 through 1960, when he triumphantly ended his amateur career with a gold medal at the Rome Olympics. Although his most famous pro bouts were held around the globe, the Champ did fight several times in Louisville early in his professional career.



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What: Columbia Gym

Where: 824 S. Fourth St.

Note: Louisville Police Officer Joe Martin trained young Louisville boxers here, including Cassius Clay. Clay had some of his earliest fights in the gym, which is now the University Center at Spalding University.


What: Louisville Gardens


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Where: 525 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.

Note: Built in 1905, this venue was known as the Jefferson County Armory when a young Cassius Clay fought in the Louisville Golden Gloves tournament there in 1957. Now closed, the Gardens hosted many sporting contests, concerts and civic events over the decades, including a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 


What: Freedom Hall


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Where: 937 Phillips Lane

Note: This sports arena is where Cassius Clay fought some of his earliest bouts as a professional. Freedom Hall is part of the Kentucky Exposition Center and former home of the University of Louisville college basketball team.



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