In 1958, a young fighter left Montana for Chicago and came back with a story he’s told the rest of his life.
Francis Turley, who grew up in Musselshell and attended high school in Roundup, once knocked down future heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.
Ali, of course, passed away Friday night in Phoenix after being hospitalized with respiratory problems. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for years.
While a country reflects on Ali’s greatness, somewhere Turley certainly has told his story of the fight in 1958, a second-round match at the Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions.
It was there Turley, 19 at the time, lost in a split decision to Cassius Clay, a 16-year-old from Louisville in a light-heavyweight match.
Turley remembered the fight in a 1980 story by the Associated Press, written as Ali came out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes in an attempt to become the first four-time heavyweight champ.
“He was 16 years old, just starting his career,” Turley said. “In the first round he beat me pretty good. He was fast and sharp.”
It was the second round when Turley got to Clay, sending him to the mat.
“I finally got him cornered and knocked him down with a left and a right to the jaw,” Turley said. “He went down for the nine count and got up.
“In the third round, he stayed as far away as he possibly could and ran from me. I lost by split decision.”
Turley was one of eight Montana boxers who advanced to nationals in Chicago that year. Each qualified during a Midland Empire Golden Gloves meet at Shrine Auditorium on Feb. 10, 1958.
After a first-round win at nationals over Truman Lukenbach of Denver, Turley’s match with Clay came about 20 minutes later. An AP story published Feb. 26, 1958, recapped the match.
“After a close first round, Turley knocked Clay down for a mandatory eight count in the second with a series of lefts and rights,” the story read. “Clay came back and floored Turley with a right. Turley bounced right up. His nose was bleeding freely.
“Clay seemed to have the better of it in the final round,” the story continued. “Despite the blood, Turley fought back gamely and landed several good combinations. The decision was very close.”
Two years later, Clay was on his way to stardom having won a Golden Gloves title and an Olympic gold medal in 1960. He won his first heavyweight championship in 1964 as Muhammad Ali.
Ali, however, never forgot the fight with Turley, proclaiming it was Turley who hit him hardest.
“In his book, 'I’m the Greatest,' he wrote, ‘the hardest I was every hit was by a Montana cowboy,” Turley told the AP in the 1980 story.
More than 20 years later, Turley again recounted the story to Rocky Erickson, sports director at Northern News Network, as part of the series “Montana Sports Stories.”
“I knocked him down … and he was crawling around but got up before the count of nine, 10,” Turley said in the 2003 interview. “In the third round, he just turned his back and ran from me. He should have been disqualified.”
Erickson said during the interview that Turley’s amateur record was 57-6.
At the time of the 1980 AP article, Turley was living in Billings on leave after spending six years in Indonesia working on oil fields.
Now 77, Turley is believed to live in Texas. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.