Billings Boxers Share the Ring with Cassius Clay

Taking shape in the late 1920s, Golden Gloves boxing tournaments in Chicago and New York quickly were quickly established as prestigious proving grounds for elite amateur boxers across the United States.

Gladys and Philip Bell seeing their son, Wayne Bell, off at the Billings train depot, 1958. Wayne was heading to compete at the Golden Gloves Boxing competition in Chicago. -- COURTESY WAYNE BELL

Gladys and Philip Bell seeing their son, Wayne Bell, off at the Billings train depot, 1958. Wayne was heading to compete at the Golden Gloves Boxing competition in Chicago.

COURTESY WAYNE BELL

In the late 1950s, this meant that some of Billings' heavy hitters shared the ring with none other than Cassius Clay (later to be known as Muhammad Ali), who was taking his first steps in a career that saw him win Olympic Gold, three world Heavyweight boxing titles, and establish his legacy as one of the greatest American athletes of all time.

One Billings-area boxer, Francis Turley, pictured below, gave the young Clay a wake up call during the 1958 Chicago Golden Gloves tournament. The story, as recounted in a recent Billings Gazette article, goes:

“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. I finally got him cornered and knocked him down with a left and a right to the jaw. He went down for the nine count and got up."

Competitors of the Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament at the Shrine Auditorium, 1958. Francis Turley is second from left. Wayne Bell is third from right. -- COURTESY WAYNE BELL

Competitors of the Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament at the Shrine Auditorium, 1958. Francis Turley is second from left. Wayne Bell is third from right.

COURTESY WAYNE BELL

Clay knocked Turley to the mat as well and ultimately won by split-decision, but continued Turley: “In his book, 'I’m the Greatest,' he wrote, ‘the hardest I was ever hit was by a Montana cowboy.'”

These and other classic Billings images can be found in the Billings Gazette's new pictorial history book, Billings Memories II! 

Volume II: Billings Memories: The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s Cover
The Billings Gazette presents Volume II: Billings Memories: The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s

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