Cassius Clay -“The Greatest” began boxing training in Louisville

Joseph Elsby Martin, he began coaching Cassius Clay in 1954 , who later became a three-time world heavyweight champion under the name of Muhammad Ali. At the time the future Muhammad Ali began training, Columbia Gym was racially integrated, unlike other Louisville boxing gyms of that period.

Cassius Clay and his trainer Joe E. Martin / Image: The Courier-Journal, via

Ali was first directed toward boxing by Joseph Elsby Martin. In a tale that has become a key piece of Louisville history, 12-year-old Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, attended a Louisville Service Club event at the building and parked his new red Schwinn bicycle outside. When he came back out, the bike had been stolen. An angry Clay informed Martin about the theft and told him that he planned to “whup” whoever took the bike.

Martin told Clay that before he tried to do that, he better learn to fight first, leading him to start training in the Columbia Gym and begin a storied amateur career.

A historical marker at Spalding University’s Columbia Gym. Spalding hung a replica of Ali’s red bicycle over the front entrance of the building to serve as a tribute to Ali and Martin’s first encounter / Image: via

Featured Image: Cassius Clay 1967


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