Fighter’s Heaven - Deer Lake, PA
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Most Famous Boxing Camp Ever!
Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., built a training camp on almost 6 acres on Sculps Hill Road near Deer Lake, PA in the 1970’s called Fighter’s Heaven.
Upon arriving at Fighter’s Heaven we were greeted by Mick Stefanek who asked if we would like a tour or preferred the self guided tour. We decided on the self guided but ended up asking several questions about the history which he gladly answered. We told him of our social media sites and he generously provided us with literature on the camp.
Bernie Pollack, owner of Pollack’s Mink Farm, who had a passion for boxing, built an outdoor ring on his property and invited boxers to train. One of Pollack’s boxers, Ernie Terrell, fought Ali in 1967 for the heavy weight championship and lost. Pollack used this opportunity to invite Ali to train at his farm. Ali jumped at the chance to get away from media and overfilled gyms.
The outdoor ring was not conducive to Ali’s training due to continually interrupting storms. Pollack’s brother owned land a short distance away. Upon visiting the wooded property, with a small trail, Ali envisioned his camp.
Ali got the idea of the layout for Fighter’s Heaven after briefly training at a camp in California called The Salt Mine. In 1972 the camp was built and Fighter’s Heaven grew to include 18 buildings including a log gym, dining hall, barn and stable where horses were kept, bunkhouses, small mosque, individual cabins for guests and staff, outdoor stone fireplace and a chalet for his family.
Chalet for his family:
Outdoor Stone Fireplace:
Local children would wake up at 5 am to join Ali on his back road runs. He would chop wood and train for long hours. All Ali’s training sessions were open to the public. In the evenings he would stay up late at night writing down his thoughts by a kerosene lamp in his sparsely furnished cabin.
It was at Deer Lake that Ali honed his skills to win two of his biggest fights against George Foreman and Joe Frazer.
At Fighter’s Heaven, huge boulders were placed around the camp. Ali’s father, Cassius Clay Sr., painted the names of the famous boxer that Ali admired on them.
Ali trained at Deer Lake until his last fight in 1981. Before he left Fighter’s Heaven his staff combined their money to buy a granite monument that was placed outside the gym In honor of Ali.
George Dillman, a beloved friend of Ali, who was a karate champion and Ali once trained with, purchased the camp from Ali and used it as a karate studio and bed and breakfast for a period of time.
After Ali’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease he spent 6 months at Deer Lake saying he just wanted to be alone. Ali last returned to Fighter’s Heaven in 2001. Too weakened to leave the limo he was driven thru the property.
In 2016 Fighters' Heaven was purchased by Mike Madden, son of football coach and TV announcer John Madden. He restored it to the original 1970’s camp. The large gym was refurbished inside and out by Amish craftsmen, as were many of the other buildings on site.
The boxing ring is in the same spot where Ali once stood. You are encouraged to step in the ring and take a photo with Muhammad Ali’s photo in the background. A small room off the gym was a dressing room and where Ali would relax after workouts and get massages.
Photos of gym:
Photos & Quotes in Gym:
Ali’s Aunt Coretta was a cook for the camp and the “Rules For My Kytchen” hang on the wall. Later Lana Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X, cooked for him.
Aunt Coretta’s Kytchen:
Ali’s cabin was rustic, sparsely furnished with no electricity. Thru research Madden tried to recreate the feel of the cabin. Up the hill are two log buildings that Ali’s sparring partners stayed.
Additional log buildings:
Fighter’s Heaven opened for visitors in 2019. Visitation is Saturday’s and Sunday’s only, and weekdays by appointment. For more information visit their website at Fighter's Heaven. It’s free to visit but they ask that you consider making a donation to one of Muhammad Ali‘s charities he supported. For a list of charities, click here, or visit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research website at: Michaeljfox.org.
Our visit to Fighter's Heaven was a wonderful experience. We highly recommend touring the camp to view all of Ali's training space. There is so much to learn about this small area. So many famous people have stayed and trained here - the list is never-ending. This definitely is a must see.