Tomorrow's Champions: Remembering the TV show that gave Ali his start
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Muhammad Ali loved being in front of the camera his whole career, but his very first TV debut was on WAVE 3.
It was on Tomorrow's Champions, a boxing program started in 1954 that featured local boxers like Donald Hill.
"Out of 35 fights, I lost five," Hill said.
He beat Ali, then Cassius Clay, on a split decision, but lost to him, too.
"He was about 13 then, he had just started fighting," Hill said. "He would pick on us, actually hit us but Joe Martin wouldn't let us hit him back because he was just too young and too little."
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Every Saturday at 6 p.m., people tuned in to the show that featured boxers like Jimmy Ellis and Ali along with Hill.
"During that time I used to walk down the street of Louisville and hear, 'Aren't you Don Hill? Aren't you Don Hill," Hill said.
The program was hosted by Ed Kallay, a sportscaster for WAVE and the state's first.
"Louisville boxing really took off with Tomorrow's Champions because it was a way to showcase these young kids," Kallay's daughter Kaelin Ryback said.
"He had a ringside seat in history when you got back to Tomorrow's Champions," Ryback said.
Kallay was a World War II veteran who remain friend with Ali even after his decision to not fight in the Vietnam War.
"Dad said he's following his heart and he respected him," Ryback said.
Ali thanked him when they were both honored at a Chamber of Commerce dinner a few years later.
"He turned to my dad and said, 'it was uncle Ed Kallay who supported me' and he handed the bowl to him and walked off the stage," Ryback said.
Ali was a man of principles who was really always a kid.
"I always liked him. He's a good person," Hill said. "It's just that he likes to tease."
Ali was Hill's rival, Kallay's friend and Louisville's son, and he'll never be forgotten.
"There was a hole, there was something missing," Ryback said of hearing about Ali's death. "I think that's the way a lot of people in Louisville feel that had no further connection to him other than growing up here."
Tomorrow's Champions stopped running in 1966.
Those events can be viewed at the following links:
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