Iconic Toronto boxing gym desperately searching for new home

Some of the most famous fighters on the planet, including Muhammad Ali, have trained at Sully's Boxing Gym over the decades. But now, its owner has been told by his landlord to vacate by March 15 and the iconic gym might have to close its doors for good.

Sully's, a gym where Muhammad Ali once trained, might have to close for good

John Mannella training at Sully's gym. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

The walls at Sully's Boxing Gym were once covered in pictures of the many great boxers who have passed through the doors over the years.

They've all been taken down and packed away.

Moving boxes are scattered throughout the gym, which continues to operate, despite the fact they have less than three weeks to move out.

"This was so sudden, I wasn't expecting that," said Sully's owner Joe Manteiga.

According to Manteiga, the owners of the building told him last month that they would not be renewing his lease.

Manteiga says originally they wanted him out by the end of February, but agreed to give him an extension until March 15 so he would have more time to search for a new home for the gym.

"I'm really scrambling, I'm trying everywhere to find a place, and the rates are unbelievable," he said.

Joe Manteiga has owned Sully's Boxing Gym since 1999. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

Sully's has been based at its current location on Dupont Street near Dovercourt Road for the past decade, but the historic gym has been in business since 1943. They've moved around a handful of times for various reasons over the years, but have always been based in Parkdale, a neighbourhood in Toronto's west end.

Manteiga inherited the gym from its original owner, Earl "Sully" Sullivan, in 1999, but he started training at the gym long before that.

"I came in here in 1966, and I haven't left," Manteiga said.

Back then Sully's was located on Ossington Street, just north of Queen Street. The gym made huge headlines that year thanks to Muhammad Ali, who trained at Sully's while preparing for a fight with Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo.

Muhammad Ali trains at Sully's Boxing Gym in 1966. (Sully's Boxing Gym)

"I remember the day that Muhammad Ali arrived to train a Sully's Gym," said Charles "Spider" Jones, who is a three-time Golden Gloves winner and Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame inductee.

Jones was working at Sully's at the time, as a 22-year old up-and-coming boxer. He says he arrived to work that day to find a chaotic scene with swarms of people hoping to get a glimpse of the heavyweight champion.

"The cars on both sides of the street, you could tell their were a lot players there, heavy rollers," said Jones. "There were Lincolns, Cadillacs, Tornados."

Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Spider Jones worked and trained at Sully's. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

A crowd had formed inside the gym as well. Jones says the paid $2.00 each to watch the champ train.

"And then out comes Ali, followed by big Jim Brown, Howard Cosell," Jones said while doing his best impression of the legendary sports broadcaster.

"And the crowd starts chanting, 'AlI, Ali,'" he said.

"It's the most electrifying time that I've ever seen in the city of Toronto, and it happened at Sully's Gym," he said.

"It's an iconic place because of that."

Over the year many other great boxers would train at Sully's as well, including Canadian legends Lennox Lewis and Donovan Razor Ruddock.

From time-to-time, others would stop by for a visit when they were in town to see the gym. Manteiga says Mike Tyson showed up at around seven o'clock one morning hoping for a tour, and was surprised to find the doors locked, and nobody there to let him in.

Sully's owner Joe Manteiga spars with John Mannella. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

While it's those big name boxers who have helped to create Sully's legendary status in the boxing world, Manteiga says its real identity comes from the thousands of kids who have come there over the years because they wanted to learn to box.

"They didn't know what to do with their lives," he said. "They found a reason, something that they were good at."

Unless he can find a new space with rent he can afford, Manteiga fears he may have to close the doors at Sully's for good after 75 years.

"I hope somehow, someway, somebody finds in his heart to give us a place for decent rent that we can put all these kids," Manteiga said.