CHARLOTTE, NC (WJZY) - From a young age Danny Smalls idolized legendary boxer Cassias Clay, also known to many as Muhammad Ali. Since he was eight years old, he’d watch him take the ring on television.
"It electrified me so much because he was so good at it,” he said. “I wanted to accomplish what he accomplished in boxing."
Growing up in a rough part of town, Smalls thought boxing could be his ticket out.
"Growing up in an environment like that, you build a lot of aggression and you have to release that aggression without getting into trouble, getting thrown into jail. So boxing was that release."
Smalls went on to become an amateur, and eventually professional, boxing coach. In 1996, while helping world champion Paul "the Ultimate" Vaden train for a fight in Las Vegas, Smalls finally got to meet Ali face-to-face.
"I was actually tongue-tied, just to meet him, just to shake his hand. I didn't know what else to say because that was my idol growing up,” said Smalls. “His spirit just took over the gym. No matter how good we thought we were or could be, we could never be the greatest."
Smalls says what made Muhammad Ali "The World's Greatest" wasn't so much his actions inside the ring, but those actions outside of the ring.
"He never looked at a person like they were less than him. He thought every person had value and that's how he treated people. And that's what made him so big in this world."
"It's hard to look at an idol suffering so bad and the disease had completely taken over him,” said Smalls. “So I feel God is getting the greatest now."