Saskatoon

'He was a hero of the projects': Saskatoon's Dennis Page remembers Muhammad Ali

To Saskatoon's Dennis Page, Muhammad Ali was more than just the world's greatest boxer. He was proof that a young black man from the projects of East Louisville, Kentucky could make it in the world.

Boxing trainer and promoter grew up in Louisville, Kentucky watching Ali

Muhammad Ali is being remembered not only for his boxing skills but his contributions outside outside of the ring. (Associated Press)

To Saskatoon's Dennis Page, Muhammad Ali was more than just the world's greatest boxer. He was proof that a young black man from the projects of East Louisville, Kentucky could make it in the world.

Page's father grew up with Ali, who was known then as Cassius Clay, in Louisville. He remembers being a young kid at the local boxing club with his friends watching Ali train.

To the black community, he taught all of us that we don't have to just settle for things that we have at that particular time.- Dennis Page, family friend of Muhammad Ali and local boxing trainer

"Whenever we would see Ali, he was just the hero of the projects. He was doing all the things that we hoped we could do," said Page.

"Everyone was trying to be like him and everyone wanted to go to places that he had been. He was our idol."

Pictures of Ali line the walls of Page's boxing club in Saskatoon. Besides organizing and promoting local fights, Page trains young boxers. 

He smiles when his students proclaim they want to be the next Muhammad Ali.

"I tell them it's a lot of hard work. When Ali moved in the ring, that's not dancing. A lot of people say, 'look at him dancing in the ring.' It's not dancing. One of the things Ali would always tell us is you have to move your body in certain ways to do certain things. That's what I tell the kids."

Significance outside the ring

Dennis Page remembers Muhammad Ali as a hero who had a great impact on sports and culture. (CBC)

When Page and his friends would watch Ali spar in the boxing ring as kids, they had no idea he would become such a sports and cultural icon.

It was when Page was in junior high school that he started seeing the impact his idol was having on society.

"It really came into focus when he was saying things like he wasn't going to war and how he was making black men feel good about themselves," said Page.

"When we were growing up, we didn't have black men saying things like, 'black is beautiful.' We didn't have men saying, 'I'm beautiful. Look at me. I look so good.' We didn't have guys that were saying that. We started believing that it was our right to say those types of things."

Ali's legacy

The question of Ali's legacy can be looked in different ways when it comes to Dennis Page. His brother, Gregory, was a former heavyweight champion boxer who sparred many times with Ali in the ring.

Ali would often return home to Louisville, Kentucky to train. That's when Dennis Page and friends would watch him spar. (Steve Schapiro/Corbis via Getty Images)

But it was their time away from the ring, Page explained, that had the most impact on his brother. 

"Ali would come to our house, but it wasn't a business thing. He would tell Gregory that you don't want to go out in public and act like this. So what he was really doing was preparing Gregory for the media."

Page also recognizes the legacy Ali left on the world away from the sport.

"To the black community, he taught all of us that we don't have to just settle for things that we have at that particular time. That if we work hard, we can accomplish many things. And the other side of that coin is, I think, that he taught the world that unity can be beautiful thing."

About the Author

Eric Anderson

Freelance writer

Eric Anderson is the communications leader for Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon and creator of the podcast YXE Underground. He spent nearly eight years with CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Saskatoon Morning