July 1963: From his early days boxing as Cassius Clay to later when he became a world figure, Muhammad Ali paid several visits to Scranton and his training camp in Schuylkill County.
His first visit to Scranton came on July 15, 1963, as a guest for an outdoor boxing fundraiser organized by the Scranton Elks Club.
That day, Ali also visited The Scranton Times’ sports desk and shook hands with the Times’ news department, remarking with each handclasp, “You are shaking the hand of the next world heavyweight champion.” Without urging, Ali went into this poetry: “If you want to lose your money – bet on Sonny,” and, “If you want a happy day – bet on Clay.” He also was interviewed on Times Radio station WEJL at noon, and the tape was heard at 1:30p.m.
At the fundraiser, Ali wasn’t at a loss for words.
“Look over at this side and you see a few scattered people, and on the other side there are no people,” he said. “I fought and won before more than 50,000 in my last fight in England, and even Cleopatra was at ringside. Then in Madison Square Garden, I sold out the house one week before the fight. If I knew this condition, I would have donned boxing gloves and engaged in a few rounds of boxing with my brother Rudolph.”
On Nov. 11, 1972, Ali returned to Scranton, but this time he was here to fight as part of a boxing card that had him spar against Billy Williams, Ray Anderson and Eddie Jones at the Catholic Youth Center.
Following this fight, he spoke with the press and admitted that he felt sluggish in his sparring matches. He said that he “ate two big steaks before I came here. And that’s a big mistake. It’s just a good thing I’m in shape or I’d really know it.”
Ali came to Scranton again in 1981 for a different kind of fight. On Aug. 4, Ali campaigned for independent mayoral candidate Angelo Craig. In addition to endorsing Craig in the race against Democrat James Barrett McNulty and Republican Gene Veno, Ali stopped by City Hall and posed for photos with employees and Mayor Eugene Hickey.
A reporter reached out to McNulty to see if he would ask Ali with some help for his campaign.
“No, I’m going to get Larry Holmes – he beat him,” McNulty said.

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Ali Documentary on PBS
On Sunday, Sept. 19, PBS premiered a four-part documentary on Ali at 8p.m. (check local listings). The documentary was directed by Ken Burns along with Sarah Burns and David McMahon. Link to PBS’ Ali landing page – https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/muhammad-ali/ .

Driving Ali – fun story from our archives dealing with Scranton man’s chance of lifetime to be a driver for Ali during his 1963 visit to Scranton – https://accessnepa.com/pages-from-the-past/driving-ali