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For Louisville Boxers, Ali's Inspiration Goes Beyond The Ring

Braxton Carter knows the cure for a bad attitude.

"Get right into the hive," he says.

That's what the crew at TKO Boxing calls the ring at their gym on Breckenridge Street in Old Louisville. Named in honor of Muhammad Ali, famous for his "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" mantra, Carter says the boxing ring beneath the skylights here at TKO can be a humbling place.

"This is our hive," he says. "And we're some killer bees."

This week, Carter and other fighters at TKO Boxing are remembering the principles of the boxing legend who gave name to their ring. Ali died last week in a Phoenix hospital shortly after being hospitalized for respiratory issues. He was 74.

A Million Things

The gym is a renovated auto garage. The humid air inside smells like sweat. Treadmills wind near the wall, jump ropes snap against the floor.

On a recent day, boxers from 8 years old up grunt and groan hitting heavy hanging bags. Some shadowbox near mirrors, while others fondle free weights in the corner.

Everyone is here to work, says James Dixon, head coach and founder of TKO Boxing. He opened the gym about a year ago. He's aiming to train boxers who can win fights, certainly. But he says he's also looking to make "champions in life."

"There are things we teach here that are more invaluable than boxing," he says.

Many of those teachings are rooted in the principles that shaped Muhammad Ali's life, he says. Dixon, like many of the younger boxers here, calls Ali an inspiration, a hero. And it's not just for his ability to knock opponents to the ring floor.

For Carter, Ali's allure goes well beyond the ring.

"There's a million things about Ali that made him great that didn't even involve putting on a pair of gloves," he says.

Believe In Yourself

To Mark Quinn, Muhammad Ali is boxing.

He aspires to be a champion boxer one day. And although he's just recently moved to Louisville from Cincinnati, he's fully embraced the legacy of Ali.

Quinn, 19, says Ali gave the sport flash and style. He admires Ali's toughness in the ring. He also looks up to his humble persona and dedication to his own beliefs.

That's the biggest lesson Quinn has learned from Ali, he says: to remain true to self.

"Do  what you love and believe in what you believe," he says. "Believe in yourself, most importantly."

Ali's conviction resonates with other young boxers in the gym, too.

Terrell Hargrove says he admires Ali for speaking his mind without worry of consequences.

"He was meant for a bigger reason that just boxing," he says.

Hargrove, 19, says he's watched online videos of Ali's bouts. It wasn't the knockouts, though, that made him a fan. It was the stories of Ali from outside the ring.

"He was going to be him, no matter what, and I think that's what influenced me the most," he says.

Look At What He Stood For

During the renovation of the former auto garage, Dixon decided to put a mural of Ali on the gym's outside wall. He wants the young, aspiring boxers to see the mural and think deeply about Ali's life.

"I tell them to dig deeper than the ring, look at his work outside the ring, look at what he did, look at what he stood for," he says.

And that's what many do.

Carter, one of the oldest boxers at the gym, is also one of its first members. He says he'll take boxing as far as he can, but he knows the sport will remain just a slice of his life, as it did with Ali. Carter says life shouldn't be defined by boxing but how one lives.

And, for Carter, that's what makes Ali so memorable all these years after he threw his final punches in the ring.

"You can be the greatest in the ring," he says, "but try being the greatest outside the ring."

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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