Boxing fan accelerates plans to renovate Ali's boyhood home

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Muhammad Ali's brother on Friday recalled their wrestling matches while growing up in their family's modest Kentucky home. No punches were supposed to be thrown because their parents wouldn't allow it, Rahman Ali said.

It was the home where Muhammad Ali, known then as Cassius Clay, was living when he left for fame as an Olympic gold medalist, launching a career that made him a three-time heavyweight boxing champion.

Now, plans are in motion to let his fans visit the now-abandoned house in Louisville.

Rahman Ali returned to his boyhood home on Friday with George Bochetto, a Philadelphia lawyer who recently acquired a half interest in the small frame residence with the sagging porch. Bochetto is accelerating renovation plans to restore it to how it looked when the Clays lived there in the 1950s.

"We're not looking to make it the fanciest house in America," Bochetto said. "We're looking to make it as authentically as it was, as it looked, as it felt when Muhammad and Rahman were growing up here. That's what people want to see."

That includes stripping the faded vinyl siding and putting up clapboard, painted pink, just like it was when the future champ lived there. He said he'd also like to put in a goldfish pond in the backyard, just like in the days of Ali's youth.

Bochetto, an Ali fan and a former Pennsylvania state boxing commissioner, is teaming with Las Vegas real estate investor Jared Weiss on the project. Weiss bought the house for $70,000 in 2012, but his plans to restore the house had stalled. Bochetto is injecting new energy and money into the property.

They are drawing on Rahman Ali's memory to restore the house.

"It means everything to me," Rahman Ali said of restoration plans that had him reminiscing about growing up with his brother.

"I wish we could go back and do it all over again," he said. "We had such wonderful times."

Rahman Ali said he and his brother were evenly matched when wrestling. But their parents forbid them from boxing each other at home, he said.

"They said brothers love one another, be kind to one another," he said.

Bochetto hasn't disclosed how much he paid to gain an equal share in the house. He said he wants to fill the house with vintage furniture and appliances like the Clays had in the 1950s. He said he had possible leads on tracking down the family's record player and refrigerator.

Bochetto said he and Weiss will cover all the project's expenses, which could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The work will include reinforcing the foundation and extensive renovations on the outside and inside, he said.

Muhammad Ali and his wife, Lonnie, haven't commented publicly on the project. For years, he frequently stopped by his boyhood home and visited with neighbors, but he hasn't done so in recent years, said Bob Gunnell, a family spokesman.

The former champ has battled Parkinson's disease for years.

Bochetto said he would like to have the renovations completed by September, in time for the annual Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award in Louisville, but said it could be difficult to meet that timetable.

Lawrence Montgomery Sr., who lives across the street from where Ali grew up, has said the old Clay house already draws plenty of visitors, including people in tour buses. They take pictures and read a historical marker.

Chris and Lorraine Howell of Bardstown, Kentucky, stopped to get a look at the house while Rahman Ali was there. The couple shook hands and posed for photos with him. Lorraine Howell said she listened to Muhammad Ali's fights on the radio with her father.

"I'm so happy that it's still here," Chris Howell said.

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