When Ali Took On A Wrestler
Last year's hyper-promoted “Money Fight” between boxing champ Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts specialist Conor McGregor sent echoes of a 41-year old forgotten bout.
In 1976, legendary Muhammad Ali took on Antonio Inoki, a titled Japanese wrestler with the same impassioned following as McGregor’s Irish fan base.
That encounter, which devolved into a farcical kicking exhibition, helped ruin Ali’s deft footwork for the rest of his boxing career.
Ali was 36 years old at the time and entered the ring with a 53-2 record, including 33 KO’s. Mayweather was 40 and carried an undefeated punching portfolio of 49-0 with 26 KO’s.
Though standing at different weight classes, Ali as a heavyweight and Mayweather as a multi-class lightweight, both were at the top of the fisticuffs rung when they agreed to take on fighters of a different code.
To fans and followers, the event was anticipated to be a contest between two combat disciplines. To Ali and Inoki, it was all about money. The American boxing celebrity was set for a $6 million pay day, while the Japanese wrestler would walk away with $4 million.
The 2017 showdown was ringing loud money bells as well and Mayweather’s cash prize was the only reason the boxing champ came out of retirement to face a martial artist.
Mayweather's estimated take after the fight was a multiple of his guaranteed $100 million. McGregor pulled at least $75 million, which is 5x as much as he made from any UFC event.
Like today’s familiar trash-talking pre-fight press conferences, the Ali-Inoki encounter was preceded by an exchange of high-wattage banter.
Always the showman, Ali referred to Inoki as “The Pelican”, poking fun at his prominent chin. The Japanese wrestler responded that Ali should be careful not to damage his fist when it connects with his chin.
Nicknamed “The Burning Fighting Spirit”, Antonio Inoki made his professional debut in 1960. He was trained by the famous Rikidozan, an accomplished wrestler in post-war Japan whose popularity grew after he defeated a succession of Americans.
A National Wrestling Federation (NWF) Heavyweight Champion, Inoki had only fought one boxing match when he met Ali. McGregor, the reigning UFC Lightweight Champion, was set to make his first crossover from the octagon into the boxing ring.
From the minute the bell rang on June 26, 1976 at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan arena, it was evident that any rules of engagement were tossed in favor of a free-for-all circus.
Wearing no gloves, Inoki came out sliding towards Ali, swinging kicks wildly while lying on his back. The routine continued throughout the fight with Ali dodging his opponent’s leg assaults.
The champ had managed only six punches during the entire fight, which in the end was declared a tie. More importantly, the kicking impacts on Ali’s legs resulted in an infection and two blood clots. After the fight, his handlers were even concerned about a possible amputation.
Though Ali went on to win four other major bouts and defend his WBA and WBC heavyweight titles, “The Greatest” was never the same again. Ali’s leg movements were diminished and the KO’s were gone from his arsenal.
While the Mayweather-McGregor fight didn't degenerate into the same worthless pathetic show, Mayweather did manage to walk out with an astounding 50-0 professional record and possibly close out an undefeated career.
BASEBALL April 2, 2010 Former MLB pitcher Mike Cuellar dies at the age of 72. A 2x World Series champion and 4x All-Star, Cuellar started off with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959 and played for 5 teams, spending the most years with the Baltimore Orioles. He won the AL Cy Young award in his first season with the dynastic Orioles and was their starting pitcher at the 1969 World Series against the NY Mets. Cuellar closed his career with an ERA of 3.14 and 1,632 strikeouts.
BASKETBALL April 2, 2000 At the 19th Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, the Connecticut Huskies defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 71-52. Led by their famed coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies claimed their second national title. They would win another 9 championships and become the nation’s most successful women’s basketball program to date. The Connecticut ladies dispatched Penn State at the Semi-finals before taking on Tennessee for the crown.
GOLF April 8, 1990 Nick Faldo wins the 54th annual Masters Tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Shooting a 278 (-10) and tying Raymond Floyd in the final round after the latter bogeyed on the 16th hole, Faldo emerged victorious in the playoff showdown. It was his second consecutive win at the Masters and third of what would be six career majors. Born in Herdforshire, England, Faldo turned pro in 1976 and has won more majors than any other modern European golfer.
OLYMPICS April 12, 1980 The U.S. Olympic committee announces their boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A total of 66 countries chose not to attend the games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, 80 other nations did agree to send their athletes to the first Olympics that were held in a communist country. Four years later, the Russians and their East European allies would follow-up with a boycott of the Los Angeles games.