In 1970, when Muhammad Ali returned to the ring following his forced hiatus when the United States government stripped him of his heavyweight championship crown for refusing to serve in the military, he became the subject of massive public and media attention.
When exposed to the public, women grabbed at his clothing while the paparazzi could not have been more voracious. He was clearly the most controversial figure in America. Increasingly, Ali sought the solitude necessary for him to properly train for upcoming fights. Few were aware how intensely Ali prepared for his fights, totally committing himself both physically — and mentally — to the difficult encounters in the ring that lay ahead.
Making his longings for peace and quiet known to his friends, a gentleman from Reading, Penn.. suggested that he could provide the setting where Ali could train away from the harassing mobs. As a result of this offer, Ali ended up training for his first “comeback” fights at a mink farm 20 miles north of Reading. Finding the country setting to his liking, Ali then sought to develop a real training camp in the countryside on a five acre site in Deer Lake, Penn. On this site, Ali carved out what was to become his training camp, the camp where he lived and trained for all the many fights he had from 1972 on to the end of his career in the 1980s ... fights that included two of the three classics bouts with Joe Frazier and the legendary match-up with George Foreman in Zaire.
Ali would open his training camp to the public during some workouts and sparing sessions. I was a 15-year-old boy who lived six miles up the road who was fortunate enough to watch this amazing athlete training and sparring from 10 feet away with 20 to 30 others in this small arena. His hands were so fast that he once hit Larry Holmes so quickly that Ali’s arm never seemed to straighten out but Holmes’ head snapped back and felt the blow. I later realized this was how the controversy happened over the second Sonny Liston fight in which people accused Liston of taking a paid dive because the audience wasn’t sure if Ali ever hit Liston. The other image etched in my brain was Ali hitting the speed bag above his head with the classic left, then right, boxing workout. His hands would get moving so fast they seem to form a solid ball image. His quickness with hands and feet was amazing, but he was always a kind, welcoming ,warming soul to us “nobodys” who came to watch. Joking around, hamming it up and holding little kids. He was himself in that rural setting, the man not many saw but a true class act. In his own way, he made the world a better place and he did it his way. We will miss him.
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David Jones is a 36-year resident of Boise and longtime lumber trader.