Boxing legend Muhammad Ali became an international superstar in Miami and helped shape the city into a global destination in the process.
Muhammad Ali meeting the Beatles for the first time, at the 5th St. Gym in Miami Beach, February 1964.
A global icon who changed the sport of boxing, Muhammad Ali became “Muhammad Ali” in Miami Beach. He welcomed the Beatles to town, trained for years at the 5th St. Gym with the legendary Angelo Dundee, and became a champion as Cassius Clay when he “shook up the world” by beating Sonny Liston at the Miami Beach Convention Center on February 25, 1964.
A turning point for the sport of boxing, it was also a turning point for Clay, who a week later changed his name to Muhammad Ali and transformed from a brash boxer to an outspoken political and religious activist who sacrificed significant years of his career for his beliefs.
Many feel it was his time here that shaped his world views. From his nights spent enjoying the music scene in Overtown to lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth’s and Burdines, Ali connected with the Black Muslim community in Miami. “He used to run across from Overtown to the beach all the time,” says current 5th St. Gym co-owner Tom Tsatas, who welcomed Ali back to the gym numerous times, including for its reopening in 2010. “He loved Miami Beach and was more personable than anyone I’ve ever met. He was the greatest in many ways.” Throughout his later life, Ali was a presence in Miami, celebrating a University of Miami football championship at Joe’s Stone Crab in 2002, promoting his coffee-table book at Taschen bookstore in 2010, and throwing out the very first pitch at Marlins Park in 2012.
In the wake of Ali’s death following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease, the city of Miami Beach plans to rename a street in his honor, not because of the fight inside the ring that changed his life, but the fight outside it that changed ours.
Photography by: Photography by Keystone-France/gamma-Keystone via Getty Images