For many people, being a top banking executive would be enough – and a good reason to show up early after the day’s work is over. But not for Ramiro Ortiz, who eventually rose to the post of chairman of SunTrust Bank and BankUnited – while moonlighting as a boxing promoter.
“Even when I was working in banking, I promoted boxing shows at the War Memorial in the early ’80s,” says Ortiz, who then promoted fights at Magic City Casino. “It makes an interesting whirlwind, when you’re a banker by day and a boxing promoter by night.”
Ortiz became addicted to soft science at a young age. Despite a 7-0 record as an amateur, he determined he was better off coping with banking than boxing.
“In sport there is what seems to be little difference from level to level,” he says. “But when you compete you understand that the level is almost like a mountain that you have to climb.”
However, he always kept one foot in the ring, including frequent visits to the original – and legendary – Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach.
“The first floor was a pharmacy,” he says of the second floor gymnasium, which boasted of Angelo Dundee as a trainer. “You went up that rickety old wooden staircase. All those great fighters from the 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s, they worked there – Roberto Durán, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson. I still remember the first day I walked in, the world’s number one lightweight, Douglas Vaillant, walked past me. ”
But of all the greats who trained in the gym, none were as magnetic or majestic as Muhammad Ali. The famous fighter, who died in 2016, is the subject of a photographic exhibition at the HistoryMiami Museum, where Ortiz was previously CEO.
Created and curated by Miami-based photographer Andrew Kaufman, “ALI / MIA” consists of gelatin silver prints of Ali from negatives in the Louisville Mail Journalthe archives of. Most of the photos show the famous boxer training and going about his daily life in Miami in the lead-up to his first fight against Joe Frazier – a championship game that took place 50 years ago this month, of which we is remembered in boxing annals as “The Fight of the Century.”
(Ali and Frazier were undefeated before the 15-round bout, which took place on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Frazier won unanimously, although both fighters came out of the bout beaten and bloodied Ali would go on to win two subsequent – and equally hard-fought – revenges in 1974 and 1975.)
The exhibit, which runs through August 29, is on display in a new gallery space that will showcase South Florida photography through HistoryMiami’s collection of more than two million images.
In one of these images, taken by Larry Spitzer, Ali adjusts his shirt in front of Wolfie’s, the iconic 24-hour delicatessen that has existed for 60 years on 21st Street and Collins Avenue.
When you think of Muhammad Ali, “Jewish deli” is probably not the first term that comes to mind. But knowing Miami Beach in the early 1970s is to understand the connection.
“At that time, there were a lot of Jews in Miami Beach,” notes local historian Marvin Dunn, professor emeritus at Florida International University. “It was the end of segregation and the start of an integrated society. It was a dramatic moment in terms of civil rights that became the new reality. Ali may have been the first black person to be identified in Miami Beach, unless you were a maid or a gardener.
“He was also always a black man in Miami, and there were always dangers with that,” adds Dunn, who himself is black. “He could have been killed crossing the road in the dark. He suffered the same degrading insults as any black man in Miami back then. It hurt him, it hurt us all.”
Specific to Wolfie’s, Dunn says, “I used to go there for breakfast. It was one of the few places on the beach where a black person could go without feeling uncomfortable, in part because he there were so many northerners in there. It was also a political hotbed. Politicians met there, decisions were made there. It was kind of a focal point, both in terms of celebrity and one of the first places that accepted African Americans. I discovered sauerkraut there. sandwiches, pastrami, I had never eaten this stuff before. ”
Recalls Ramiro Ortiz, paraphrasing Ali’s Cornerman Ferdie Pacheco: “Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, but Muhammad Ali was created in Miami.”
Then known by his birth name, Ali first appeared in the city shortly after winning gold at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. Over the years he has lived in many parts of Miami, including Overtown, the cultural birthplace of Black Miami.
According to Dunn, the boxer’s presence over the years has given Black Miami “a heightened sense of importance.”
Most of the photographs that make up “ALI / MIA” depict Ali working out, relaxing or interacting with spectators at Fifth Street Gym, where he was “bathed in that beautiful Miami light,” says curator Andrew Kaufman.
Kaufman stumbled across the project in 2018 after a friend looked into Ali’s archives in the Mail-Journalthe photo department of. The newspaper had photographed Ali’s exploits since the Louisville native was a 12-year-old hobbyist and had in their possession a host of compelling images that had never seen the light of day.
Kaufman’s friend mentioned in passing that some of these photos were of Ali in Miami, so Kaufman asked to see them. About six months later, he got his hands on the negatives. He picked his favorites, went to the darkroom and came out with the portfolio that would become “ALI / MIA”.
Soon after, the Colony Theater on Lincoln Road staged a play called One night in Miami, who imagines a night of heated conversation between Ali, Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown in a Hampton House hotel room after Ali won the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston at Miami Beach Convention Center in February 1964. The colony displayed the photos in its lobby throughout the play.
After the play ended, the ensemble – and Kaufman’s footprints – headed to the Hampton House as an installment. Kaufman then added eight famous photographs of Ali to his Colony collection for a larger installment at the Betsy Hotel, where someone from the Knight Foundation saw them. The foundation obtained a grant to allow HistoryMiami to purchase the prints. (As for One night in Miami, last year saw the release of a film version of the play, which recently won three Oscar nominations, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.) Mail-Journal also compiled a book, Image: Muhammad Ali – A rare glimpse into the champion’s life, which contains hundreds of archive photos that cover Ali’s life from when he won his first Golden Gloves championship at the age of 12.
“Ali’s brand on Miami is absolute,” Kaufman says. “When I was in the darkroom and held the negatives of Muhammad Ali at Wolfie’s or Fifth Street Gym or Collins Avenue leaning over a Miami Herald newspaper box, the nostalgia was intense. These were all the places I had seen when I was a kid visiting my grandparents in Miami Beach. I am from New York and seeing Miami Beach from my childhood was an experience I will never forget. Collaborating with Muhammad Ali in a way is one of the highlights of my career. ”
Jebb Harris was not in Miami when Ali was training for the fight of the century, but the former Mail-Journal The photographer was in the Bahamas when the champion fought the last fight of his career, against Trevor Berbick in 1981. Showing the first signs of Parkinson’s disease, Ali lost a ten-round decision, and three of Harris’ photos of this last trip are included in the exhibition “ALI / MIA”.
Harris remembers being with a colleague when one of Ali’s teachers told them to “be at the fountain at 6 a.m.” on the day of the fight. They arrived on foot, and at the fountain they found, in Harris’ words, “a limo following Ali, who was jogging and shadowboxing.” The sun was rising over the ocean and it was just beautiful. in the country and the limousine stops and Ali gets on it. We thought it would be a long walk back, but Ali sticks his head out and says, “Come on, get on” and drove us back to his apartment. ”
Of the champion’s signature spirit, Harris adds, “He’d say, ‘I should be on a postage stamp because that’s the only way to get me licked. “He made great copies; he was so fast. Later he was frail and someone was leading him through the crowd. Years later when I had Parkinson’s disease too, I thought how hard it must have been for him to be so quick and nimble and then someone has to walk you through a crowd. ”
“Muhammad Ali in Miami: training for the ‘fight of the century’. “ Until August 29, at the HistoryMiami Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-375-1492; histoiremiami.org. Free entry.