Today I was reminded that this week is the 50th anniversary of Muhammad Ali's very first professional fight, a 6 round win in Louisville, KY over Tunney Hunsaker, the Fayetteville, West Virginia police chief.
At the time he was still called Cassius Clay and was 18 years old and 6,000 fans were present that night in Freedom Hall. Clay won all six rounds convincingly. He was paid $2,000.00 and Hunsacker $300.00 for their efforts.
I have even a longer memory of the most famous boxer in history. A few weeks earlier as a young student I had spend £26.00 for a week at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome, my first trip abroad. The money got me a round trip train and cross channel ferry trip via London, Dover, Calais, Paris, and via Switzerland and Milan, Florence to the Eternal City. It also included 7 days bed and 3 meals daily at a local catholic boarding school. Quite a bargain.
It was relatively inexpensive to watch athletics 4-5 days in the Olympic Stadium, football at Stadio Flaminio, hockey, and boxing, for about the equivalent of about 50p a session. In those days the boxing finals, all 10 of them, were in one evening and I paid less than £1 to watch at the beautiful Palazzo dello Sport. I remember Giovanni Benvenuti of Italy winning the welterweight crown and the Italian national anthem being played and sung three times that night. However, the most memorable fight was the light-heavyweight title. Cassius Clay beat Zigzy Pietrzykwski of Poland, with USA also winning 3 Olympic gold medals. You can still view this and other fights on YOUTUBE.
It inspited me that on my return home I went to university and joined the boxing team as a novice and loved it, eventually winning a national collegiate title and representing my country at varsity level.
Clay went home to Louisville, KY and he signed an $18,000.00 contract with a group of local businessmen who took over the management of his career. As Muhammad Ali he said he would 'float like a butterfly and sting like a bee', before taking Sonny Liston's world heavyweight crown from him, and knocks him out in the first round of a rematch.
I was at the Houston Astrodome in early 1967 where he was about to defend his crown, and had a photo session with him in the training ring before the fight. Of course there is a lot more that you can read about his famous fights, The 1974 Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, Zaire, beating George Foreman, in 1975 The thriller in Manila, stopping Frazier in the 5th Round, the battle with the law over his refusal to be drafted in 1970, the dark years when he had some dangerous political and religious management teams, and his current medical problems.
Recently his image rights, or at least 80% share were purchased by a company called CKX, who also own the Elvis Presley brand and much more. www.ckx.com