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Muhammad Ali vs. Tunney Hunsaker: The first fight of the Greatest

Cassius Clay, who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali, faces Tunney Hunsaker in Louisville. AP Photo

Cassius Clay, who would later rename himself Muhammad Ali and become boxing's biggest ever superstar, had his first professional bout on this day 55 years ago.

After winning light-heavyweight gold at the Olympic Games in Rome the previous summer, Clay started his professional career in his home town of Louisville with a unanimous six round points win over Tunney Hunsaker.

Clay arrived at Louisville's Freedom Hall in a brand-new pink Cadillac and he was too slick and quick for his journeyman opponent, who had lost his previous six bouts.

But Hunsaker managed to go the distance, something Clay's next five opponents did not, and the bout ensured his place in history as the answer to a trivia question: who was Muhammad Ali's first professional opponent?

Hunsaker's nose began leaking blood in the third and he was cut over his right eye the following round. Clay finished the fight splattered with blood from his fellow American.

Clay won every round and took home $2,000. After the heavyweight bout in front of a crowd of 6,180, Hunsaker - a 30-year-old police chief who earned $300 - said: "He's awfully good for an 18-year-old and as fast as a middleweight."

Clay signed an $18,000 contract to be managed by 10 Louisville businessmen following his punch-for-pay debut. By the time Clay challenged Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title in February 1964, he had compiled a 19-0 record.

Hunsaker, who served as a police chief in Fayetteville for 38 years, had to end his professional boxing career in 1962 after he was left in a coma for nine days from a head injury sustained in a 10th round knockout. Hunsaker required two brain operations before recovering to work in the police until retirement in 1992. His final boxing record was 18 wins, 15 losses and 9 KOs. He died in 2005, aged 74.

Ali has outlived Hunsaker, as he has done many of his old opponents and famous rivals. Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after winning the world heavyweight title in 1964, won back the title in 1974 after a three-year exile (1967-70) and was world champion for a third time in 1978.

Ali retired with a record of 56 wins, 5 losses and 37 KOs. Not long after his final bout in 1981, Ali announced he had Parkinson's Disease.

Several of Ali's fights, such as the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle, are some of the best known in boxing. Ali has transcended boxing to become one of the most recognisable sportsmen in history.

*Nick Parkinson is the author of 'Boxing On This Day'