Whatever happened to the guy whom Muhammad Ali beat in his first profes-sional fight, 47 years ago today?

Ali was still called Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, named after his father, when he fought Tunney Hunsaker before 6000 fans in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky. It was just weeks after his Olympic light-heavyweight victory in Rome, but already he had been bankrolled by a posse of white businessmen.

There was no doubt that the teenager was destined to be a success, even before his less-than-glorious departure from the Central High School.

In his class of 1960, he reportedly placed 369th of 391. Indeed, it was the school's principal who argued that Cassius should be given a certificate of attendance, because "one day he'll be making more money than everyone in this room".

Sure enough, Cassius turned up for that first pro fight at 18, driving a brand-new pink Cadillac. "He sure was a brassy young boy when I fought him," said Hunsaker in a much later interview.

He said he had set no store by Ali's steamroller progress at the Olympics, where he had beaten Poland's triple European champion, Zbigniew Pietrzykowski, for gold. "I heard he won the Olympics, so I knew I was fighting a tough bird," recalled Hunsaker, "but I don't think there was ever a fighter - not a good one anyway - who went in the ring thinking he was gonna get beat. I know I never did.

"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."

At the end of the sixth and final round, Hunsaker's eyes were swollen almost shut, and Clay won a unanimous verdict.

Hunsaker was 30, and chief of police in Lafayette, West Virginia, when they met. He had won a Golden Gloves title while in the US Air Force in Texas, and entered his date with Clay holding a record of 15 wins and seven defeats. But he'd lost six in a row, the only mitigation being that two of these had been against title-contenders: Tom McNeeley and Ernie Terrell.

Clay had just begun pro training with Fred Stoner, whose prime objective was to ensure his charge was fit enough to go six rounds, twice what he'd been used to as an amateur, and to begin his education into the skulduggery of the pro game.

Hunsaker recalled Clay nervously bounced a basketball when they had met in a sports goods store to promote the bout earlier in the day, and Hunsaker thought this showed apprehension. His conversion was Damascene. Afterwards, he told a friend that he thought his opponent would become world heavyweight champion.

By the time Ali fulfilled that prediction, beating Sonny Liston and announcing his name-change and conversion to Islam in 1964, Hunsaker's life had taken a tragic twist.

In April 1961, a tenth-round punch from Joe "Shotgun" Sheldon put him in a coma for nine days. Hunsaker suffered a subdural haematoma and twice had to undergo brain surgery. He never fought again, and was eventually diagnosed with long-term pugilistic dementia and Alzheimer's disease. He died in April 2005, aged 75.

Did the broken butterfly recognise omens of his own fate? Perhaps. They never lost contact, and Ali even turned up at the white police chief's retirement party.