Pottsville, PA

BOXING: Madden provides update on former Ali training camp at Deer Lake


Photo: David McKeown / Staff Photographer. Peter Angelo Simon (left) discusses his book Muhamad Ali Fighter’s Heaven 1974 with the camp’s current owner Mike Madden in Ali’s refurbished gymnasium at a June 1st memorial event, honoring the second anniversary of Ali’s passing. 


DEER LAKE, PA — Mike Madden’s dream is beginning to take shape.

It’s a dream about preserving a piece of American sports history.

It’s a dream about preserving the legacy of the man known to many as “The Greatest.”

Madden, son of NFL coaching great John Madden, has been a life-long fan of Muhammad Ali.

It’s why nearly two years ago following the former world heavyweight champion’s death and after an internet search indicated that Ali’s former Deer Lake training camp was for sale, Madden bought it.

It’s why Madden has begun restoration work to bring the camp, now known as Fighter’s Heaven, back to what it once was.

Angered by misinformation he found in stories about Ali’s life, Madden sees his mission at Deer Lake as providing the champion’s legacy as it should be.

“I decided I wanted to do this, I wanted to take a shot at it,” said Madden on Friday afternoon during a walk-through tour of the camp and a press conference that provided a bit of an update about where the process is. “We’re going to have a hand in preserving Ali’s history.”

Ali’s gym at the camp, sort of a training central where he prepared for some of his biggest fights, is the most glowing example of the work that has already been done.

Using old photos as a guide, Madden has tried to arrange things as they were when it was the hub of Ali’s activity.

A regulation ring is in place, with a heavy punching bag hung nearby.

The “rubdown room” off to one side remains a work in progress.

Photo enlargements of Ali’s fights along with others of him posing with celebrities, fighters and friends are hung from all four walls, as are plaques with famous quotes attributed to Ali over the years.

Among the items gracing the inner walls of the gym are photos of Ali with Ray Robinson, Angelo Dundee, Gene Kilroy and Jackie Robinson, among many others.

There are also framed covers of “Life” magazine covers that featured Ali over the years.

In one corner is a big-screen television that plays a DVD featuring highlights of Ali’s career.

The Kilroy connection

Invaluable through the process has been Madden’s friendship with Ali’s former business manager and Mahanoy City native Kilroy, who also made an appearance at the podium during Friday’s media event.

Of Madden’s efforts to create a lasting tribute to Ali, Kilroy said, “He put his money where his heart is.”

Other work has also been done on several cabins and bunkhouses on the property, but more remains in the future.

“We just want to kind of finish what we started,” Madden said. “I want to bring school kids in to see it.

“I’ve been in touch with several of the local schools. We want to have kids come up on field trips. I love to share it. Ali loved to share it. If we start with field trips, we can see where that takes us.”

In one corner of the gym, affectionately named Kilroy’s Corner, are historical photos from Kilroy’s private collection.

“The stuff we’ve done here to date, and the stuff that will be done here in the future would not have been possible without Gene,” Madden said.

Photo assist

In 1974, noted photographer Peter Angelo Simon spent time at the training camp with Ali, taking literally thousands of photographs.

Many of those were published in Simon’s book, “Muhammad Ali: Fighter’s Heaven 1974.”

Simon, who attended Friday’s event, said it was his first visit back to the Deer Lake Camp in 44 years.

Many of his photos served as inspiration and a factual guide for the restoration project.

“We used photos from Peter’s book,” said Madden, who says he cherishes the worn copy of the book he has at his home in California. “I didn’t know he was coming today, so that was a big honor.”


Pottsville, PA

Contact the writer: croth@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6025