Cincinnati boxing community: Ali's impact is huge

CINCINNATI -- As Muhammad Ali's family announced his death late Friday, people in Cincinnati's boxing community say the legend had a huge impact both in and out of the ring.

"Muhammad Ali to any boxer is the best, was always considered the best. He is what everyone wants to become," Maria Norton Baumer said.

Baumer is the head coach of Cincy World Class Boxing, a place where at-risk youth can go. She commended Ali for using the sport to speak out against injustice. In 2009, Ali received the Beacon of Change Award in Cincinnati for his contribution to civil rights.

PHOTOS: Muhammad Ali through the years

"He took a stance when it was very controversial, and he stuck to it," she said.

Daryl "Pee Man" Jones, the head coach of the Findlay neighborhood house boxing team, said he met Ali while training in Pennsylvania, just after he turned pro.

"He loved what he was doing," Jones said. "He said, 'you got to love something to be the best at it. You train like a fighter, you got to be a world champion,' and I felt that."

Ali fought during a time of racial and social tension. In 1969, Vietnam veteran Earl Corell met Ali in New York before he shipped overseas to the war.

"The Black Panthers were in town. We're walking down the street, and the guy that's walking with me goes, 'That's Muhammad Ali,'" he said.

Corell spoke to Ali for about 10 minutes. They shook hands.

"I was telling him, 'I got drafted in the military.' And he said 'They took my belt away from me because of my religious beliefs when they were going to draft me,' and he said 'I didn't go. I was a conscientious objector,'" Corell recalled.

The conversation has stuck with Corell.

"You grow older and you understand both sides of the story," Corell said. "That's what he believed in, and I respect that."

Oscar Robertson has always had a significant amount of respect and admiration for Ali.

Robertson, 77, remembers watching Ali (then Cassius Clay) in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Ali won the light-heavyweight gold medal there for the start of his international fame.

“He was an outgoing young man,” Robertson said. “He was a tremendous boxer. “He had a following from 1960. He got bigger and better from there.”

Robertson, the University of Cincinnati basketball legend, was a co-captain on the gold-medal winning basketball team prior to signing with the NBA's Cincinnati Royals in September 1960 in Carew Tower.

Robertson and Ali would interact throughout the decades at various functions and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer attended some of Ali’s bouts.

“He had great defense and offense,” Robertson said. “He was just a dynamic boxer the way he moved around in the ring. He was just magical in the ring with the Ali shuffle and whatnot.”

Robertson said Ali's legacy as a humanitarian and a strong voice for African-Americans won't be forgotten. Robertson put Ali in the same sentence with Jesse Owens and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for their impact in race relations and social justice.

Robertson said "The Champ" stood the test of time with his convictions and beliefs.

“Who was the greatest athlete ambassador for America?” Robertson said. “He was the greatest of all time.”

Danny Calhoun, owner of the Punch House in Norwood, said Ali's courage inspired many people.

"It's really heartbeaking that Muhammad Ali is gone because a lot of people looked up to Ali," he said. "He actually changed a lot of people's lives."

Terry O'Brien, a former boxer and owner of Shamrock Boxing Gym, said he'll never forget the first time he met Ali.

"I met him when Norton beat him and broke his jaw," O'Brien said. "It was down in Frankfort, and he came in our gym one time. He was up here for a boxing match we had up here in Erlanger."

Baumer said Ali never lost his edge to make things better, and that's what people remember most. "He is the greatest of all time. He's someone that all the kids, every kid who boxes, knows and appreciates."

Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the 1980s. He was 74 when he died.

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