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‘I Am Ali’ Festival Gives Louisville Boxers A Chance To Shine

Saturday marks a year since the death of Muhammad Ali. To commemorate the Louisville native and championship boxer's legacy, this weekend kicks off a six-week long festival.

The second annual “I Am Ali” Festival will celebrate Ali's life with tours, movies and various activities. But the celebration is more than an attraction to locals. Namely, it's a reminder of Ali's influence on Louisville's boxing community.

James Dixon, Louisville TKO Boxing’s co-founder and head coach, has taught boxers for six years. In his gym, gloves mercilessly pound leather bags. A speed bag drums rhythmically in a corner, and a jab combination is rewarded with praise. And in the center, lit by the sun beaming through skylights, stands the ring. There, boxers step, grunt and land punches.

Ali watches through photos lining the wall, an eternal spectator in the sport he championed. To Dixon, Ali left a legacy the world may not see again anytime soon.

"Nobody sacrificed more with his career — in his prime, with money, endorsements — than him," Dixon said. "Look at the legacy that he left behind, not only to our city but to the world. We seen something special with him and it will be 100, maybe 200 years before you see something that special again."

For TKO's Mike Tee, a coach for 20 years, Ali is still the greatest.

"He meant the world to Louisville," Tee said. "He was a mentor to a lot of guys and me. I watched him when I was growing up ... he’s the greatest. Not just in Louisville, he’s the greatest of all times, all over the world.”

And to new and experienced boxers in Dixon's gym, Ali is still an inspiration.

“He made a name for the city," said John Taylor, a second-year boxer. "If you’re coming out of Louisville and you’re boxing, the first thing people say is, you know: ‘the next Muhammad Ali.’ So he set up a good path for us."

"He means a lot to me — more of what he did in his death than what he did in the ring," said Braxton Carter, a boxer of four years.

Carter said the "I Am Ali" Festival is a chance to shine the spotlight on Louisville boxers.

"With all the out of town people that it brings, it gives the city a chance to show its boxing culture and what we really bring to the table," he said. "Boxing’s been dead here for a long time in Louisville and now we’ve got all eyes on us.”

Louisville TKO Boxing will take part in the celebration by hosting national boxers for fights during the festival.

The festival will include Evander Holyfield's championship boxing match, June 24 at Freedom Hall. Dixon's son is set to fight there. He said Ali belongs to Louisville but he wants to people to look at the boxing legend's impact worldwide.

"I mean sure, he’s our son," Dixon said. "But that’s what makes it so great: he brought it (boxing) to the world. He didn't just bring it to Louisville, Kentucky ... this guy changed the world."

Info and a schedule of events for the "I Am Ali" Festival are here.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.