Sunday, 24 October 2010

50th Anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s First Professional Fight

October 29 1960 was a turning point in the boxing career of a young man who at that time was known by the name of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr.  On the evening of that day he took part in the first professional fight of his career.

Today we know him as Muhammad Ali and it is fifty years since that fight, from which the boxer went on to astonish the world.

Even fifty years ago he was not an unknown.  Although he was only eighteen years old he had already represented his country in the Summer Olympics of the same year, held in Rome.  He had made his international name there, winning a gold medal in the light heavyweight division.

The time was ripe for him to turn professional.  With an outstanding amateur record of only five losses against 100 wins it was time to make some money.  Serious money.  Ali’s first ever trainer had been a police officer, Joe E. Martin who had encountered the young Cassius incandescent over the theft of his bicycle.

It was not without irony then that his first professional fight would be against another police officer.

In fact Tunney Hunsaker (left in 1978) was more than that – he was the Police Chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia.  A Journeyman boxer he had fought in excess of thirty bouts.  Ten years older than Cassius Clay he lost in the sixth round to the young challenger.

The match took place at the Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky and Hunsaker lost with a unanimous six round decision.   This decision was not taken lightly but it was obvious that Hunsaker could no longer persevere with the fight: both his eyes were swollen shut.

Hunsaker would often reminisce about this match in later years.  “Clay was as fast as lightning (was he the first to say this we wonder?) ... I tried every trick I knew to throw at him off balance but he was just too good”.  Ali himself takes his hat off to Hunsaker in his autobiography The Greatest, admitting that the Chief delivered one of the hardest body blows he ever experienced before or after the match.

In a 1992 interview, Hunsaker revealed some of the brassier aspects of his teenage opponent.  "He sure was a brassy young boy when I fought him. He drove to the Louisville fairgrounds in a brand-new pink Cadillac”.   Yet the thing he remembered most about the bout was the fact that Ali was so big and so fast. 

Hunsaker’s own boxing career would come crashing to an end only a year  later.  In April of that year he fought Joe “Shotgun” Sheldon to ten rounds before Sheldon delivered a crashing blow.  Suffering a head injury and being in a nine day coma he decided that enough was enough – in fact had to have two brain operations and he suffered from the physical effects of this last bout for the rest of his life.  He died in 2005 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Mohammed Ali never forgot the man who was the human embodiment of a turning point in his life.  He and Tunney Hunsaker became good friends and stayed in touch with each other until Hunsaker’s death in 2005.  Ali was even the surprise guest at Hunsaker’s police retirement party back in Fayetteville. Best Blogger Tips
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