Exploring Fighter’s Heaven – Muhammad Ali’s Training Camp in PA

Entrance to the gym at Muhammad Ali's training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Would it surprise you to learn that Muhammad Ali, perhaps the greatest boxer of all time, prepared for some of his biggest fights at a training camp he built in rural Pennsylvania?

Sign welcoming visitors to Muhammad Ali's training camp in Deer Lake, PA
Sign welcoming visitors to Muhammad Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake, PA.

Muhammad Ali was introduced to Pennsylvania coal country by Gene Kilroy, a member of his entourage, former PR executive with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Schuylkill County native.

Ali initially trained at an outdoor boxing ring on a mink farm in Deer Lake, owned by furrier and boxing enthusiast Bernie Pollack.

Not content to have his training sessions interrupted by inclement weather, Ali purchased a nearby six-acre wooded plot of land from Pollack in the spring of 1972, in order to build an indoor training camp.

"Welcome to Muhammad Ali Training Camp" sign outside Deer Lake, PA.
“Welcome to Muhammad Ali Training Camp” sign outside Deer Lake, PA.

Muhammad Ali personally laid out the design of what he nicknamed “Fighter’s Heaven”, and the training camp he built eventually grew into a small village of 18 buildings, including a gym, a kitchen/dining hall, a mosque, and cabins for himself, his sparring partners, and his staff and guests.

Visitor cabins next to Muhammad Ali's mosque at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Visitor cabins next to Muhammad Ali’s mosque at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Muhammad Ali trained at Fighter’s Heaven until his last fight in 1981, after which Fighter’s Heaven eventually changed hands, fell into disrepair, and went back up for sale around the time of Ali’s death in 2016.

A plaque memorializing Muhammad Ali's three heavyweight championships.
A plaque memorializing Muhammad Ali’s three heavyweight championships, on display at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

It was immediately after Ali’s death that Mike Madden – boxing fan, real estate developer, and son of NFL Hall of Famer John Madden – learned that the property was on the market and proceeded to purchase it.

Fighter's Heaven Mission Statement.
Fighter’s Heaven Mission Statement.

Mike has put an enormous amount of time, money, and sweat equity into restoring Fighter’s Heaven to its former glory, working with one-time Ali associates to try and authentically recreate the camp in a manner similar to how it was in Muhammad Ali’s heyday.

Heavy bag and boxing ring at Muhammad Ali's training camp in Deer Lake, PA
Heavy bag and boxing ring at Muhammad Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake, PA.

Fighter’s Heaven FAQs

Where exactly is Fighter’s Heaven located?

Fighter’s Heaven is located at 58 Sculps Hill Road, Orwigsburg, PA 17961.
If navigating by GPS, use coordinates 40.63814, -76.09528.
For some reference – it’s roughly 20 miles north of Reading, 30 miles west of Allentown, or 6 miles south of Pottsville.
How to find Fighter's Heaven in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

When is Fighter’s Heaven open to visitors?

Monday-Friday by appointment year-round
Saturday & Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm from May through October

Sign near the entrance to Fighter's Heaven along Sculps HIll Road in Schuylkill County, PA.

What is the admission price at Fighter’s Heaven?

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated, all of which go to several partner charities including The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research,The Muhammad Ali Center, and Avenues.
Welcome to Fighter's Heaven sign inside the gym at Muhammad Ali's training camp in Deer Lake, PA.

Why did Muhammad Ali want to train for his fights in rural Pennsylvania?

To escape the distractions of big-city gyms. He found the fresh air and wide-open spaces reinvigorating and loved spending time at Fighter’s Heaven.
A Muhammad Ali quote about his love for his log cabins at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

Where did Muhammad Ali sleep at Fighter’s Heaven?

Ali slept in a spartan, one-room cabin with no electricity and a hand-pump for running water.
His wife and children stayed in a separate chalet at Fighter’s Heaven.

Muhammad Ali's bed inside his cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Where did Muhammad Ali eat at Fighter’s Heaven?

Ali built a large kitchen/dining hall where he and his entourage ate.
Muhammad Ali eating in the dining hall at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake PA

Where did Muhammad Ali train at Fighter’s Heaven?

Ali built a gym with a boxing ring next to the dining hall. He also did his “road work” / endurance runs along local roads and chopped down trees with an axe to build strength and stamina.

Boxing ring at Muhammad Ali's training camp in Deer Lake, PA.

Where did Muhammad Ali pray at Fighter’s Heaven?

Ali, who joined the Nation of Islam in 1964, prayed at a mosque he had built on-site at Fighter’s Heaven.
Muhammad Ali's mosque at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.


Exploring Ali’s Personal Cabin at Fighter’s Heaven

Of all the structures at Fighter’s Heaven that have been rehabilitated under Mike Madden’s ownership, perhaps none is more interesting that Muhammad Ali’s personal cabin.

Exterior of MUhammad Ali's one-room cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake Pennsylvania.
Exterior of Muhammad Ali’s one-room cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

While this rustic, one-room cabin would seem right at home on the frontier of 18th century Pennsylvania, it seems almost implausible that the most famous person in the world at that time chose to live in this humble abode while training for the biggest fights of his illustrious career.

Fireplace inside Muhammad Ali's cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Fireplace inside Muhammad Ali’s cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

With oil lamps and a fireplace for light, and a coal stove for heat, Muhammad Ali found physical and mental focus living in this manner.

The sink and hand pump inside Muhammad Ali's cabin at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
The sink and hand pump inside Muhammad Ali’s cabin at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Today, visitors to Fighter’s Heaven can channel some of the Ali magic by recreating scenes captured during the Champ’s time here in Deer Lake.

Relaxing inside Muhammad Ali's cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
My friend Jeremy relaxing inside Muhammad Ali’s cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Many of the furnishings of Ali’s cabin have been faithfully reproduced from photos and videos taken over the years he trained at Fighter’s Heaven.

Muhammad Ali relaxing onside his cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Muhammad Ali relaxing inside his cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Even small details such as the heavy boots Ali wore while doing his endurance runs are present near the foot of his bed.

Muhammad Ali did his road work / conditioning runs around Fighter's Heaven in boots similar these.
Muhammad Ali did his road work / conditioning runs around Fighter’s Heaven in boots similar these.

Photos on the walls and a video of a tour Muhammad Ali gave to TV host Dick Cavett add to your sense of connection to the past as you explore the cabin.

The simple interior of Muhammad Ali's personal cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake Pennsylvania.
The simple interior of Muhammad Ali’s personal cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake Pennsylvania.

The Gym at Fighter’s Heaven

The gym at Fighter’s Heaven is another highlight of the grounds. At the heart of gym, appropriately enough, is the boxing ring.

Boxing ring in the gym at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.
Boxing ring in the gym at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

The walls of the gym surrounding the ring are decorated with photos and posters highlighting Ali’s career.

Fight poster from early in Muhammad Ali's career on display at Fighter's Heaven.
Fight poster from early in Muhammad Ali’s career on display at Fighter’s Heaven.

There are also displays of Muhammad Ali’s quotes – some famous, others more subtle but no-less insightful.

One of the many Muhammad Ali quotes on display in the gym at Fighter's Heaven.
One of the many Muhammad Ali quotes on display in the gym at Fighter’s Heaven.

An attached rubdown room is where Ali would go post-workout.

Training table and rub-down room at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.
Training table and rubdown room at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

The couch and telephone in the rubdown room offers yet another amazing chance to recreate history!

My friend Jeremy channeling his inner Ali during our visit to Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
My friend Jeremy channeling his inner Ali during our visit to Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

The Kitchen at Fighter’s Heaven

No heavyweight fighter becomes a three-time world champion without a good kitchen staff, and Muhammad Ali had both his Aunt Coretta and Lana Shabazz to thank for preparing meals for him, his staff, and guests at Fighter’s Heaven.

Lana Shabazz was the cook at Muhammad Ali's Fighter's Heaven for many years.
Lana Shabazz was Muhammad Ali’s nutritionist at Fighter’s Heaven for many years.

The original kitchen stove and dining table are still there, as well as some of Lana Shabazz’s handwritten recipes.

Lana Shabazz's hand-written corn bread and spoon bread recipes in the kitchen at Muhammad Ali's Fighter's Heaven.
Lana Shabazz’s hand-written corn bread and spoon bread recipes in the kitchen at Muhammad Ali’s Fighter’s Heaven.

The opportunity to sit at Muhammad Ali’s original kitchen table at Fighter’s Heaven is simply too good of a photo op to pass up!

My friend Jeremy at the original dining hall table at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.
My friend Jeremy at the original kitchen table at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

Other Buildings at Fighter’s Heaven

Muhammad Ali had bunkhouses built for his sparring partners, which included future boxing champions Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.

Cabins for Muhammad Ali's sparring partners at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, PA
Cabins for Muhammad Ali’s sparring partners at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA

The chalet was where his wife and children stayed, and the stable was for the horses at Fighter’s Heaven. 

The chalet Ali built for his wife and children, with the stable for his horses out back.
The chalet (left) and stable (right) at Fighter’s Heaven.

As mentioned previously, Ali built a mosque to pray in.

Inside Muhammad Ali's mosque at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Inside Muhammad Ali’s mosque at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Next to the mosque were several cabins for staff and visitors.

Exterior of a guest cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Exterior of a guest cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Muhammad Ali maintained an open-door policy at his training camp, so anyone from local fans to international celebrities were liable to show up at Fighter’s Heaven.

Some of the famous guests Muhammad Ali entertained at Fighter’s Heaven over the years included Andy Warhol, Isaac Hayes, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Jim Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Cheryl Tiegs, Howard Cosell, and Dick Cavett.

Interior of one of the guest cabins at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Interior of one of the guest cabins at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Outdoor Features at Fighter’s Heaven

Something that grabs your attention immediately as you arrive at Fighter’s Heaven are a number of large boulders emblazoned with the names of famous boxing personalities.

Sonny Liston boulder at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake Pennsylvania
Sonny Liston boulder at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

Muhammad Ali had a number of large boulders brought in to Fighter’s Heaven, which his father (a sign painter by trade) then painted with the names of some of Ali’s former opponents, boxing idols, and trainers.

Some of the boulders painted by Muhammad Ali's father at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.
Some of the boulders painted by Muhammad Ali’s father at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania.

Since Fighter’s Heaven has reopened to the public as a museum of sorts, images of the persons named on the boulders have been added to the mix, to put faces to the names, as it were.

Floyd Patterson boulder at Fighter's Heaven on Deer Lake, PA
Floyd Patterson boulder at Fighter’s Heaven on Deer Lake, PA.

Another interesting landscape feature is a large outdoor fireplace near Muhammad Ali’s personal cabin.

Outdoor fireplace next to Muhammad Ali's cabin at Fighter's Heaven in Schuylkill County, PA
Outdoor fireplace next to Muhammad Ali’s cabin at Fighter’s Heaven in Schuylkill County, PA.

Here Ali, along with camp staff and visitors, would gather around a roaring fire under the starry Pennsylvania night skies to enjoy one another’s company.


Fighter’s Heaven Historical Significance

In a state not unfamiliar with Revolutionaries, Muhammad Ali was and still is one of the most famous “revolutionaries” in American history.

Muhammad-Ali-Joe-Frazier-Fight-Photo-Fighters-Heaven-Deer-Lake-PA
A photo from Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila” on display at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.

And while the Revolutionaries of the 1770’s were fighting for independence from England, Muhammad Ali put his career, his reputation, and his personal freedom on the line 200 years later to fight for his ideals regarding racial justice and America’s involvement in Vietnam.

Another quote by Muhammad Ali, along with photos from his time at his training camp in Deer Lake, PA.
Another quote by Muhammad Ali, along with photos from his time at his training camp in Deer Lake, PA.

The fact that he chose rural Schuylkill County as the place where he would refine not just his body, but his mind and ideas about life as well, should be a source of pride for all Pennsylvanians.

Muhammad Ali jumping rope in the gym at Fighter's Heaven in Deer Lake, PA.
Muhammad Ali jumping rope in the gym at Fighter’s Heaven in Deer Lake, PA

I cannot recommend a trip to Fighter’s Heaven strongly enough, whether you’re a boxing fan or not, because Fighter’s Heaven is so much more than just a collection of artifacts.

An insightful Muhammad Ali quote about life on display in the gym at Fighter's Heaven
An insightful Muhammad Ali quote about life on display in the gym at Fighter’s Heaven.

Muhammad Ali’s list of accomplishments as a fighter, a philanthropist, and a humanitarian has filled volumes of books, and the chance to literally walk in the footsteps of such a legendary figure and experience the environment that helped shape his life is a fortuitous opportunity not to be missed!

Float Like a Butterfly Sting Like Bee quote written for Muhammad Ali.
“Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like Bee” quote written for Muhammad Ali.

Contact Fighter’s Heaven

To arrange for your own visit to Fighter’s Heaven, or to inquire about holding a corporate retreat or private event there, use this contact form on their official website.

Fighter's Heaven logo Deer Lake Pennsylvania

Nearby Attractions

The Yuengling Brewery is located 6 miles north of Fighter’s Heaven, in Pottsville.

The iconic Yuengling Brewery on Mahantongo Street in Pottsville Pennsylvania.
The iconic Yuengling Brewery on Mahantongo Street in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Yuengling is America’s oldest brewery, and offers free tours with free beer samples (to those 21 and older) at the end of the tour!

Touring the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville Pennsylvania.
Touring the Yuengling Brewery in Pottsville Pennsylvania.

Jerry’s Classic Cars and Collectibles Museum is a two-story, floor-to-ceiling display of vintage cars and pop culture memorabilia, housed in a historic garage.

Vintage VW Bug on display at Jerry's Classic Cars and Collectibles Museum in Pottsville.
Vintage VW Bug on display at Jerry’s Classic Cars and Collectibles Museum in Pottsville.

With over 20,000 collectibles on display, as well as dozens of rare automobiles, Jerry’s Museum is well worth a few hours of your time when visiting the Pottsville area.

A soda fountain counter is reproduced in this scene from Jerry's Classic Cars and Collectibles Museum in Pottsville.

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Rusty Glessner is an award-winning photographer, lifelong Pennsylvanian, and creator of the PA Bucket List travel blog.

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