Willie Buchanan’s basement is almost a shrine to Ali. There are pictures of the champ everywhere. Buchanan was once a boxer himself.  He grew up in Beloit a foster child from a dysfunctional family.

“I’m a poor kid on the east side of Beloit. Poor Avenue. They said I wasn’t going to be nothing,” says Buchanan.

But as a kid Buchanan watched Ali fight on television. Buchanan was mesmerized and inspired by what he saw and heard from the champ.

“As a little foster kid I didn’t have a father or mother. But he inspired me to become somebody. The man I am today.”

Today he’s a retired Navy veteran who served 20 years.

“Right here I was a gunner. I was a gunnerman. I took this in Beirut, Lebanon (points to picture). This is me right here and the ship I was on. One of the ships I was on.”

It was at the age of 11 that Buchanan took up boxing. He trained at Jack Clark Studio on West State Street in Rockford. When he grew older and joined the Navy he was on the boxing team. He later had four professional bouts. His boxing career didn’t last long but the impact Ali had on him lasts to this day.

Thanks to his boxing connections Buchanan got to meet Ali twice. The first time was in 1992 in Ali’s home town of Louisville at a fight. The second time was in New York.

“It made me feel so good when I met him. I cried,” says Buchanan. “Look at that picture. I’m crying because he meant so much to me.”

Buchanan also got to put on Ali’s World Boxing Association Championship belt.

“It’s amazing!  As a child I wanted to be the heavyweight champion of the world,” says Buchanan. “But my real goal was to meet him. That was my goal just to meet this man right here.”