In 1970, when Muhammad Ali returned to the ring following his forced hiatus when the United States government stripped him of his heavyweight championship crown for refusing to serve in the military, he became the subject of massive public and media attention. When exposed to the public, women grabbed at his clothing while the paparazzi could not have been more voracious. He was clearly the most controversial figure in America. Increasingly, Ali sought the solitude necessary for him to properly train for upcoming fights. Few were aware how intensely Ali prepared for his fights, totally committing himself both physically and mentally to the difficult encounters in the ring that lay ahead.
Making his longings for peace and quiet known to his friends, a gentleman from Reading, Pennsylvania (who had gotten entry to Ali as a result of sitting in the front row of all of the Champ's fights) suggested that he could provide the setting where Ali could train away from the harassing mobs. As a result of this offer, Ali ended up training for his first "come back" fights at a mink farm in Reading owned by the aforementioned gentleman. Finding the country setting to his liking, Muhammad Ali then sought to develop a real training camp in the countryside.
Twenty minutes from Reading, Pennsylvania (30 minutes from Allentown, one hour from Philadelphia and a two hour drive from New York City), Ali found a five acre site on a Pennsylvania country road in the village of Deer Lake. (On a map, the location can more easily be found by looking for "Orwigsburg".) On this site, Muhammad carved out what was to become his training camp, the camp where he lived and trained for all the many fights he had from 1972 on to the end of his career in the 1980's...fights that included two of the three classics bouts with Joe Frazier and the legendary match-up with George Foreman in Zaire. (Ali retained the camp until 1997 when he sold it to his friend and current owner, a gentleman who was with the Champ from the day Ali first saw the site to virtually all the days it was used as a training camp.)
The camp Ali created stands today in virtually the same condition it was in when the Champ was there. It contains eighteen rustic structures (most are of log cabin construction) that range from his gym and dining hall to Muhammad's family home and the separate home both with substantial stone fireplaces he lived in (apart from his family) in the immediate months prior to his fights. There are individual small cabins that visitors stayed in and bunk halls that housed sparring partners. There is a five stall barn for the horses that Ali loved (there were always horses there as well as a donkey); there is also the building Ali had built as a small mosque. Improvements in recent times have primarily come in the form of new roofs, floors and added insulation (making the structures more livable in the cold months). Indeed, the camp can be described as in "move-in" condition. In its current format (consistent with the way it was laid out by Ali), the camp can provide sleeping accommodations for approximately one hundred people. Photographs adorn some of the walls...photos that depict the Champ in training and some of the many celebrated athletes, movie stars and other accomplished people who visited with Muhammad at the camp.
There are many objects within the camp that would have great collector value were they to be separated and sold. Fortunately, they remain intact and come with the property. These range from desks and dining tables and other furniture used by Ali, to uniquely personal items.
When the camp was first being set up, large boulders were brought in to protect cars from rolling down a steep slope adjacent to the parking area. Muhammad Ali's father, a painter by trade, looked at the boulders and with guidance by his son started painting the names of legendary fighters (and his manager Angelo Dundee) boldly on these massive rocks. Those vividly painted names remain to this day and stand as testament to the extraordinary events that, in many cases, originated at this camp. The names include Jack Johnson, Floyd Patterson, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray (Robinson) and Joe Louis plus many others.
Over the years, thousands visited the camp where they watched Ali in training and mingled with leading figures of the time. A short list of some who came would include virtually all the greats associated with the fight game along with celebrities ranging from Sylvester Stallone (who was rumored to have lived at the camp while writing Rocky), Andy Warhol, Howard Cosell (the staunch Ali defender who conducted many of his famous interviews there) and Elvis Presley. (When Elvis and Ali walked into a local antiques shop, the dealer nearly fainted!) Fighters who trained there included Sugar Ray Leonard and Larry Holmes, and in later years, a young Mike Tyson. Indeed, a number of sparring partners of Ali achieved recognition simply being associated with the Champ. Mr. "T" of television fame, started out as a body guard of Ali at the camp.
As part of his training regimen, Ali ran on the local country roads, sparred in the gym and studied films of past and then current great fighters. He utilized scientific techniques in honing his physical skills, mapping out how he would fight his next opponent. For example, in training for the Joe Frazier fights, Ali used three sparring partners, each possessing an attribute of Frazier. He often spoke of Jack Johnson the remarkable African American heavyweight champion from a century before who had to fight great prejudice as well as other fighters to achieve his crown as the greatest fighter who ever lived. At the camp prior to the Foreman fight in Zaire, Ali perfected the successful technique of defense that was later to be called "rope-a-dope." His methods were hardly left to chance. The camp is ready for a new owner. It is in wonderful condition, complete with all the history and many of the artifacts that were there from Ali's days. It even includes Ali's signed deed. Land in close proximity to the five acres is available for possible expansion. Its rural flavor combined with relative nearness to millions suggests that it might have many possible uses. One of these could include being an inspirational center where urban youth could live in the country for a week or so, inspired by the greatness of the Champ. The Deer Lake Training Camp is historic and wonderful. To discuss the possibilities, kindly contact Guernsey's.