The Fifth Street Gym on Fifth Street and Washington
Avenue was iconic. People came there from all walks
of life. There was no air conditioning. It was
musty. It smelled of sweat -- boxers sweat. There
was a back room with a bed and mattress, a place
where the boxers would shower, towel off.
There was no elevator. You had to walk up two
flights of steps to the first floor. Sitting right
there at a table would be Chris Dundee who ran the
gym. He used to charge 25 cents to let people in to
see the fighters train. If he knew you, you paid
I remember one guy didn't want to pay the quarter
because, he said, he was the press.
pants," he was
ERNIE ROSEN: In
1960, after Ali – the young Cassius Clay then --
won the Olympic light heavyweight championship gold
medal, he was managed by the people that made
Seagram's Whiskey in Louisville, Kentucky. Those
people had him come down here to Miami to be trained
and managed by Angelo Dundee who got him a little
apartment in Overtown.
That was when I met Cassius Clay. He came to my
office in the ghetto in Miami at North West Second
Avenue and 10th Street. I thought he was the most
exceptional looking individual I had ever seen in a
boxer. He was beautiful, he was shapely, all his
muscles were in the right places. And he was
extremely fast, fast with his mouth, talked all the
time. He was not an intelligent man in the
conventional sense. He was totally instinctive, just
did the right thing , and he was very funny. He
could charm anyone even my usually uncharmable old
Baptist Church nurse, Miss Mabel Norwood, who summed
him up: “That boy is either going to be the champion
of the world or he’s crazy.”
Ali was a
solitary figure then with nobody to keep him
company, an 18-year-old, new to the big city of
Miami, trying to find out what it was like. He had
no guy friends. He had no girlfriends. All he had
was the Fifth Street Gym and Angelo Dundee and Chris
Dundee. That’s who he had. But inside of two months,
he had taken over. He was a magnetic figure. The
whole town was following him around. If you hung
around him, you became attached to him and were
under his spell.
PACHECO: Ali was such an unassuming person. He
didn’t care about getting dressed up, he would
always wear black. He was so kind to everyone. He
would collect antique cars, ride around in the cars,
and talk with Ferdie.
I was a dancer
and dance teacher, and from my expert point of view,
he was very light on his feet.
Sarria, a Latin guy, would massage Ali in the back
room, work his muscles with the cream and all that.
Once when Ali was getting his massage and workout, I
tried to get into the room, and this big black
Muslim guy -- he was wearing one of those hats that
look like yarmulkes – was standing at the door
blocking my way. “Man, you can’t come in here,” he
overruled him. “Hey, that’s my man Jesus,” he said.
That came from the time I was wearing a little beard
like Mephistopheles, and the cut man, Angelo Dundee,
introduced me to Ali saying: “This is my friend,
Jesus Christ.” After that, and for all the years
that I knew him, Ali called me Jesus.
I saw things between Angelo and Ali
that most people didn’t see, didn’t know. There was
such a close tie. Ali seemed to have a great love
for Angelo, and Angelo for him. He would put his
arm next to Angelo who was Italian and had dark
skin, and he’d say, “Angelo, you a nigger; you more
of a nigger than I am.” But lovingly.
BERNIE ROSEN: Angelo and his brother
Chris founded the Fifth Street Gym in the early
fifties. Angelo was one of the top trainers in the
20th century. Chris was a promoter of the fights in
the Miami Beach auditorium, the place where Jackie
Gleason would eventually put on his shows. I would
go over every single Monday and do a preview of the
fights, and Chris would put on shows every Tuesday
night. We used to shoot one of the fights and run it
back to the station to have it processed and put on
the air. That was a huge thing back
DAVE ROGERS: We used to go to
Wolfie’s after the Tuesday night fights: Angelo,
Chris, Ferdie Pacheco -- the fight doctor who had a
medical practice in Liberty City and would regale us
with all kinds of stories -- and Jimmy Ellis, the
fighter. They were all part of Ali’s entourage.
“Angelo, give me a couple of
dollies,” Ali would say. Dollies, not dollars.
Angelo would support fighters who needed money. He
kept one pocket for singles and one pocket for
Every day, I’d pick up Angelo, and
we’d go to the gym. A lot of people came to the gym,
guys from all walks of life. They would come off the
street, up the steps, and there on the right would
be this little guy sitting at a desk, always with a
cigar. That was Sully Emmet, a true Damon Runyon
I was in the insurance business and
insured a place on 23rd Street called Ollie’s. It
had great steaks and hamburgers with special
Ollie had a girlfriend, Terry. They
would argue; the language was terrible. Whenever he
and Terry had a fight, he’d go out in the back and
smoke his cigar. He was always smoking a cigar.
Sometimes the ashes would fall on the hamburgers.
“Ah,” he’d say, “that’s what makes it good.”
I took Ali to Ollie’s. There was a
bus outside filled with a class of kids. Ali went
over to the bus and made like he was boxing, hitting
the window of the bus. Then we went in. I said to
him, “You’ll get only one Ollie burger. That’s all
you’ll get.” (In those days they would name a
burger after someone.)
Ali said, “I want another one.”
“You can’t get another
Then Ollie came over. “Ali, for you,
there’s another one.”
Angelo brought Moe Fleisher along. He
was a guy who sold boxing shows from New York and
was publisher of Ring Magazine.
We’d go out for lunch, and Moe would
invariably say “I have to go meet the girl.” The
girl lived in the Tropics Hotel on Collins Avenue
and 15th Street (I wrote the insurance for the
building). He was 86 at the time; she was 84.
Once I was with Moe in the Convention
Center. We go to the bathroom. He’s standing next to
me in from of the latrine. Before anything starts,
he looks down and he says “Son of a bitch, you died
before I did.” That was Moe Fleisher.
Another time at the Convention
Center, Ali’s standing next to me. “Muhammad,” I
tell him, “One of the fighters at the gym is gay.”
He says, “Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you; he’ll beat the
crap out of me.”
“Tell me. No one’s gonna touch you.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Come on, you gotta tell me.”
I say, “Bend over, I’ll whisper it to
He bends over. I kiss him on the
cheek. He slides down the wall, hysterical.
I called Ali the
Pied Piper of Hamelin. He would talk to everyone,
give autographs to everyone. He was a real good
When Ali was at the Fifth Street Gym, chairs were
lined up all around the ring. People would scream
and yell as he shadow-boxed around. Other fighters
were training there, but it was never packed the way
it was when he was there.
I’d see Ali there, watch him spar, sit on his lap.
The Fifth Street Gym had to be the greatest one
location on Miami Beach when it came to sports. I
used to go there with my father and a group of guys.
We saw Sonny Liston fight there. My father would be
in the huddle in the ring; he shot it on 16 mm. My
father was best friends with Angelo Dundee. I saw
the training that was done with Angelo. I saw Ferdie
Pacheo, the most famous fight doctor ever known in
sports, and his wife Luista at the gym. They were my
mom’s dear friends.
“The Fight Doctor” name for me was New York stuff.
That was hardly all that I was. I was a scholar who
gave lectures at Harvard and all over.
I liked every
boxer I ever took care of. I was a hero to people
because I was taking care of their heroes. There is
something ennobling about taking care of people who
are on their last legs, 18, 19 years old and they
don’t know what to do with themselves.
The Cuban boxers
were my favorites. They came to Miami completely
lost. They were political exiles and had been
oppressed, horribly. I took them into my house and
let them sleep in the garage. I had a Cuban maid.
She was a great cook, and she cooked the food they
liked, lots of it. They all made money and all
I met Angelo
Dundee around the time I came to Miami to live. “I
like boxing and jazz,” I told him. “Any boxer that
gets cut I will sew him up for nothing. I will take
care of his medical needs. For the rest of your life
you will never have to write out a check for me. On
the other hand, I want a ticket to every fight you
promote -- for me and my wife and maybe more if I
want to bring friends.”
He got a good deal. So did I. He saved himself at
least a hundred, two hundred thousand dollars. For
my part, because of Ali, worlds of interest opened
up to me that I had never known. I met the Queen of
England, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, the Beatles,
Elvis. Through the 1960s and 1970s, everyone who
was anyone was at our door. They all wanted to be
I met Budd
Schulberg. He liked being at the Fifth Street Gym.
He loved boxing. He was a great writer, a perceptive
writer. He wrote On the Waterfront, The Harder They
Fall among other top writings. I had written a very
good novel of my growing up. It delineated the
society of Tampa and Ibor City better than anybody
else has ever written it. I asked him if he would
read what I had written.
We agreed that
he would come over to my house at ten the next
morning. He asked me to have a good bottle of vodka
for him. I had a case ready. He went into the
backyard with the manuscript, sat under the shade
tree, and began to read. He stayed with me for two
days and read it straight through. He edited it for
me and did not make many changes. He said he liked
it a lot and if it doesn’t get published, it will be
a shame. However, he couldn’t get it published for
me. I couldn’t get it published either.
was extremely helpful to me, and I was extremely
helpful to him. And that was because of Ali. Because
I knew Ali, people wanted to know me, to help
me. (to be continued)
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