- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) - Before he was known as Muhammad Ali, his name was Cassius Clay. And Idaho boxer Jerry Armstrong fought not against him, but beside him in the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

“A lot of people thought he was just a big show up but that’s just the way he was,” said Armstrong. “He was very outgoing and didn’t have an enemy, was friends with everybody, just a very nice person. Ali was kind of an idol of mine.”

Jerry says the 18-year-old kid from Louisville was a class clown from the start and a little bit naïve.

“He and I were walking along the boardwalk and we looked out over the Atlantic Ocean and he says you know, ‘I wonder what’s on the other side of that big lake’,” Armstrong recalled.

Jerry would end up taking 5th in his weight class at the Olympics. Clay would take home gold. It was the start of the famous boxer’s career. He would go on to win three heavyweight world championships and change his name to Muhammad Ali.

Ali later claimed he threw his Olympic medal into the Ohio River, saying he was disgusted by living like a second class citizen in the segregated south. A move that Armstrong says was a big mistake.

“It just shows disrespect for the Olympic games,” explained Armstrong.

It wouldn’t be the last time Ali was controversial, he was stripped of his title after avoiding the draft to fight in the Vietnam war. He was a man boxers say they loved or loved to hate, including local boxing icon Kenny Keene.

“I was against him, I was always rooting for the underdog,” explained Keene. “And being a fighter our styles were nothing alike, I was more of a Joe Frazier guy.”

But boxers agree one on one thing: He was a man that brought the sport to a whole new level.

“He created a lot of interest for people who weren’t interested in boxing,” said Keene.

“He did such a marvelous job that he got a lot of people interested in the sport,” echoed Armstrong.

Ali will be laid to rest in his hometown of Louisville this Friday. Among the people offering eulogies at his memorial service is former president Bill Clinton.

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Information from: KIVI-TV, https://www.scrippsmedia.com/kivitv


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