The following article is a dedicated contribution from Jeff Burns.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, the elder son of Cassius Senior and Odessa and brother of Rudolph Valentino on 17th January 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky.
He started boxing at the age of 12 at a gym run by local policeman Joe Martin where he quickly caught the attention of the local boxing fraternity, winning a host of amateur titles culminating in him representing the USA at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. At 18-years of age he boxed in the light heavyweight division and won his way to the final by beating a Belgian in two rounds outpointing a Russian in the quarter finals and winning a points decision over Tony Madigan of Australia in the semi finals. In the final he met up with the experienced Polish boxer Zbigniew Pietrzykowski and was declared the winner on all five of the scorecards to win the gold medal. On his return to the United States he was bombarded with offers to turn professional and he signed up with a syndicate of local businessmen headed by Bill Faversham whilst boxing coach Angelo Dundee was appointed as his trainer.
Made his professional debut in Louisville on 29th October 1960
He made his professional debut in Louisville on 29th October 1960 outpointing Tunney Hunsacker over six rounds. Hunsacker was a seasoned pro also fighting out of Louisville where he had won fifteen out of twenty five professional starts with one draw. Muhammad Ali who was then billed as Cassius Clay won all of the six rounds by wide margins. By the end of 1961 he was boxing 10-round contests and won all of his 10 bouts, seven of those victories were achieved inside the scheduled distance. His victims included Herb Siler, Tony Esperti, Jimmy Robinson, Donnie Fleeman, big punching LaMar Clark, Duke Sabedong, Alonzo Johnson, Alex Miteff and Willie Besmanoff.
Already, Clay was throwing out challenges and insults to World heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, his ambition was to become the youngest ever heavyweight champion, an honour that was held at that time by the reigning champion who had won the title when he was 21 years and 10-months old.
Became known as the 'Louisville Lip.'
The year 1962 started with a shock for young Cassius because in the first round of his first fight of the year he was dumped on his pants by Sonny Banks before stopping his opponent in the fourth round. By this time he was predicting the round in which he would stop his opponents and it came as no surprise to Clay that the referee stopped the contest true to his prediction. The ‘Louisville Lip’ as he was now known, accurately predicted the ending of his remaining five fights in this year. He stopped Don Warner in the fourth, George Logan in four, Billy Daniels in the seventh, Argentine prospect Alejandro Lavorante in five and the ageless former World light heavyweight champion Archie Moore in the fourth. This was Archie’s 217th and penultimate fight.
Clay’s next fight was in Pittsburgh in January 1963, he predicted big Charley Powell wouldn’t be around for the end of the second - how right he was as the referee came to Charley’s rescue in round two.