LOUISVILLE (AFP) – In a nondescript concrete building in Louisville, Kentucky, the scent of perspiration hangs in the air as two teenagers in protective helmets and boxing gloves trade gusts at lightning speed, propelled by cries of encouragement.
Sunlight streams in from a skylight overhead to illuminate the activity at the centre of TKO team, where the heirs of Muhammad Ali are determined to further celebrate the hometown fighting glory.
Louisville is the hometown and final resting place of the renowned fighter, who was buried here on June 10, 2016.
Teenagers prepare at TKO – in Ali’s hometown Louisville
These young people, really do hope they might be the next Cassius Clay. On any given day, about 80 youths can be found training at TKO, buoyed by an identical quest for greatness. How would Ali react on that?
“Nobody is close to Muhammad Ali – he’s way above everybody else,” said 17-year old Jeffrey Clancy, a strapping youth nude from the waist up, with a well defined physique.
“He was so much ahead of his time, it was absurd – nobody had actually seen rapid feet like that in the heavy-weight division,” the teen said.
Jeffrey started boxing after the sport was taken up by a young Cassius Clay.
He learned to let his fists do the talking in the boxing ring, although the youthful Louisville upstart came to be known for his way with words.
It was like he was dancing
Clay began his training in 1954 at the age of 12 – about exactly the same age as many of the children at TKO. He started his training, nearby a health club that is now part of the Spalding University. He started in a time when Louisville was a segregated city, at the crossroads of the Midwest and the Deep South.
He switched his name to Muhammad Ali, and grew to become not only Louisville’s favorite son, moreover, at the peak of his popularity, “The Champ”, the phenomenon of America and much beyond.
After he died, Ali still remains larger than life itself. Upcoming fighters following his steps are prodigious, but they are no where near close.
Stephanie Malone, a recent boxing recruit (24), says she’s embraced Ali’s credo as her own.
“Be yourself and don’t let anybody dictate who you’re, your drive, your determination,” she says, summing up what is actually the crux of Ali’s message.
Malone came to boxing comparatively late, but has established herself as one of the most talented combatants at TKO – bobbing, jabbing and weaving around.
The young woman said Ali stays for her a never-ending source of inspiration.
“I adore the way he fought, his head move, like, I’m going to strike you, but you’re not going to hit me ,” she added
The boxing star was described by her as not only a master tactician, but as a mesmerizing phenomenon in the ring.
“His footwork was simply unbelievable, it was like he was dancing, like he’d a radio inside his head on a regular basis,” she said.
Seven or eight national winners
Malone’s youthful cousin, Keilan, prepares at TKO (The place has picked its name from the boxing term technical knockout).
Kelian says that he wanted to stay away from the wrong folks, and he clarifies he was determined to box, to keep on the right path in life.
Nearby, Leslye Harbin, another child, describes the physical catharsis which he gets when he laces up his gloves.
“Boxing will help me with my wrath,” he says. “Like, I’ll take it outside on a tote rather than someone.”
TKO creator, James Dixon is an African American man, with tattooed arms who played the part of sparring partner for his son and some of other children in his garage.
Ali’s Hometown Louisville is now “the laughing stock of the nation” states James, as the city has seven or eight national winners. This makes Dixon quite proud.
“I believe it’s because of the nature of Muhammad Ali, and I believe it’s due to (his) nature that we work incredibly hard,” he says.
Ali’s Hometown Louisville, remains the only city on Earth to have had four heavyweight champs. Aside Ali, these include Marvin Hart, Jimmy Ellis and Greg Page.