By Murray Gaby
(Note: This is part two of a two-part story that was originally published in 1980)
Heir apparent to Stillman’s a as the world’s most famous gym is the Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach. Operated by Chris and Angelo Dundee, it has been the subject of countless articles and boxing stories and is a legend in its own time.
I started training there in 1960, and the regulars who trained read like a Who’s Who of Boxing: Willie Pastrano, Luis Rodriguez, Florentino Fernandez, Douglas Valiant, Gomeo Brennan, Yama Bahama, Mike DeJohn, Ralph Dupas, Tony Alongi, and the young Cassius Clay. It was also used at different times by many other well-known fighters looking to escape the colder weather.
The major difference to me was the atmosphere that prevailed here as opposed to other gyms. The fighters were much friendlier toward each other and there was almost a spirit of camaraderie amongst us. I think this was primarily due to the influence of Angelo Dundee. A friendly, warm person, it was his personality that rubbed off; and, unlike the wars that went on in Northern gyms, Angelo would not tolerate any beatings at Fifth Street. If one examines the durability and success that most of his fighters have, you would have to agree with this philosophy.
I had a locker in front of Willie Pastrano’s private room, and we quickly became good friends. Willie was an outgoing guy and had a childlike sense of humor. There were always pranks and jokes, and the burden of training seemed lighter when Willie was around.
At the door collecting dues and admissions was Hattie Ambush, a bent, little old lady who inherited the job from her husband after he died. She was the personification of the Jewish Mother – a tender spirit in the middle of the most brutal of all worlds. The contrast of her in this environment was strange, to say the least.
During the ’60s and ’70s it was Ali who created all the excitement and he brought the Fifth Street Gym an international reputation. With him there, it was the height of showtime, and the gym regulars relished the attention that washed over everyone. The place would always be packed with fighters – whether they had a fight on or not.
Over the last few years, as boxing activity dwindled in Miami Beach, so has the activity in the gym. It has grown old and empty, and a sad thing for me to see. The occasional times when a Duran or an Ali come in, the place is crowded and it’s like the good old days.
But it’s only a matter of time. Within the next couple of years the redevelopment program on South Miami Beach is slated to begin, and the Fifth Street Gym will be torn down.
The boxing gyms in this country have been microcosms of life: tragedy, humor, success, failure, fear, greed, and for me, a school where I had a chance to learn about things I could get nowhere else.
The excitement and glamour of fight night is a wonderful thing, but the gym is where the real story of boxing exists, and I am grateful for having been a part of it.
I am grateful, for I have been well-trained.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Murray Gaby is a former rugged undefeated middleweight who is considered the Leonardo DaVinci of boxing artists.