SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The echoes of a boxing legacy can be heard across the world. Muhammad Ali fought just as well with his words as he did his fists.
Born Cassias Clay in 1942 in Louisville Kentucky, Ali began boxing at age 12 after his new bicycle was stolen and he vowed to a policeman that he would “whup” the person who took it. He capped his amateur career by winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Turning pro, his cocky and controversial style turned him into a national figure, but his dramatic defeat of Heavyweight Champ Sonny Liston in 1964 was a surprise.
Ali trained for his second fight against Sonny Liston in Chicopee, staying at the former Shine Inn across from the Mass pike in 1965. He went on to win the controversial fight in Lewiston, Maine. The same town where former pro-boxer Jose Ortiz of Springfield once boxed. Ortiz started boxing at 14 in Puerto Rico, and has had over 20 years’ experience as a fighter. Ali was a role model for Ortiz growing up. He told 22News, “He was a great boxer and a great human being and it’s sad to hear that he passed away.”
Ortiz now passes on lessons he learned while watching Ali down to his students at Old School Boxing in Agawam. He explained, “He changed the whole boxing world with his style and he brought a lot to boxing, you know a lot of people look up to Ali and still look up to Ali.”
A lot of kids from the Springfield area will come to a local gym throw on the mitts and get themselves in the ring. Not just to learn about boxing but about life lessons outside of the ring and that’s what Muhammad Ali was a strong advocate for. Colin Ryan, out of Agawam, told 22News, “He was like a really good pro boxer, one of the best.” Another student of the sport, Jason Denbin from Chicopee, said, “A legacy, he’s very inspirational to younger fighters, even older fighters and a lot of people look up to him.”
Marianne O’Leary, of Holyoke, said, “Usually when celebrities or public figures pass I don’t really feel a connection with them, but I have to say it hit home and I was sad. I was a little weepy when I read some of the things. It’s just a reminder of what he brought to the sport and how he changed the world really.” Muhammad Ali visited western Mass in his later life as well. In the winter of 1991, the Rocky Marciano Foundation held a banquet in Agawam with Ali as a special guest. 22News Anchor, Rich Tettemer was the MC of the event.
Rocky Marciano’s monument is located at Mom and Rico’s Restaurant in the South End. Rico Daniele met Ali when he came to visit Springfield and has pictures throughout his market. He explained to 22News, “They don’t make any more Muhammad Ali’s. What an anchor for boxing. At those days, there wasn’t a fight I didn’t see of him. He just knew how to draw those people which was a joy and he helped a lot of kids get off the street just because of boxing you know. What a beautiful man they don’t make those molds anymore.”
From boxing rings across the world to right here in western Mass, Muhammad Ali has gone down in history as one of the greatest athletes of all time.