Muhammad Ali’s First Opponent Dies at 75

Ali’s first opponent, Hunsaker, dies at 75 (AP – ESPN)

Tunney Hunsaker, who lost to Muhammad Ali in the boxing great’s first professional fight, has died. He was 75. Hunsaker died Monday at an extended care home after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, according to Dodd-Payne-Hess Funeral Home.

Hunsaker was Fayetteville’s police chief when he lost a decision to then 18-year-old Cassius Clay, at Louisville’s Freedom Hall on Oct. 29, 1960. Hunsaker was a journeyman heavyweight who had fought more than 30 bouts. “He sure was a brassy young boy when I fought him,” Hunsaker said in a 1992 interview with the AP. “He drove to the Louisville fairgrounds in a brand-new pink Cadillac. “But the thing I remember most about him was that he was so big and yet so fast. I used every trick in the book. The more I’d do, the madder I’d make him and the better he fought.” By the end of the sixth and final round, both of Hunsaker’s eyes were swollen shut.

Hunsaker won a Golden Gloves title while stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

In Hunsaker’s final fight, in 1961, Joe “Shotgun” Sheldon of Cleveland landed a 10th-round punch that sent Hunsaker into a coma for nine days and required him to have two operations on his brain.

Hunsaker and Ali stayed in contact throughout the years and Ali attended Hunsaker’s police retirement party in Fayetteville.

I’d never heard of Mr. Hunsaker before reading this story but it’s an interesting one. His opponent obviously went on to boxing and pop culture greatness and much more fame and fortune. Neither, sadly, came away from the fight game with their health intact.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.