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Named for the boxer Gene Tunney, Tunney Hunsaker was born February 17, 1930, in Caldwell County, Kentucky. In 1955 Hunsaker moved to Fayetteville, eventually becoming chief of police, a position he held for over three decades. In addition to his law enforcement career, Hunsaker, like his namesake, was also a professional boxer. In 1960 Hunsaker faced a young Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) in Ali’s first professional bout.

Hunsaker honed his boxing skills while serving in the U.S. Air Force, and became a Golden Gloves champion in 1951 while stationed at San Antonio’s Lackland Air Force base. In 1959 Hunsaker fought and lost to Ernie Terrell, a future World Boxing Association heavyweight champion. (Like Hunsaker, Terrell would eventually face Ali, losing the WBA heavyweight title to Ali in 1967.)

Hunsaker was coming off six straight losses when he fought Ali, who had received his gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics the month before. Hunsaker and Ali fought on October 29, 1960, in Louisville, Kentucky. Hunsaker lost in an unanimous decision after six rounds. In 1962 Hunsaker suffered a brutal knockout resulting in a nine-day coma, after which he retired from boxing.

Ali and Hunsaker reconnected at an autograph signing in Charleston in 1987. In 1992, when Hunsaker retired from the police department, Ali visited Fayetteville and attended his retirement celebration. Hunsaker took Ali on a tour of the area, which included briefly stopping traffic so Ali could walk on the New River Gorge Bridge.

In 1998, Fayette County’s Fayette Station Bridge was renamed the Tunney Hunsaker Bridge.

Hunsaker died April 25, 2005, due to complications from Alzheimer’s. He is buried at Fayetteville’s Huse Memorial Park.

This Article was written by Jeffrey Webb

Last Revised on February 12, 2020


Sources

Harold, Zack. The Greatest’s First Foe. West Virginia Living, Spring 2019.

"West Virginia woman recalls Muhammad Ali’s first pro fight against her late husband," Pierson, Fallon. WCHS-TV. 2016.

Tunney Hunsaker, 75; Losing Boxer in Ali’s First Pro Fight. Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2005.

Cite This Article

Webb, Jeffrey "Tunney Hunsaker." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 February 2020. Web. 01 December 2020.

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