Tuesday January 17th marks the 70th birthday of the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. Dubbed “The Greatest”, Ali, born Cassius Clay Jr., is widely considered one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport. However, he also had a significant impact in pro-wrestling as well. On June 26th 1976, Muhammad Ali fought Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki in Tokyo, Japan in front of a sold out crowd and an estimated 1 billion people watching the contest worldwide.
The fight between Ali and Inoki was supposed to be a spectacle of two top stars in their respective sports. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen and the legacy of the fight has been marred by controversy over the decades. Various conspiracy stories of what really happened before, during, and after the fight have muddied the waters and tarnished the fight even further. Despite all of the negativity surrounding this fight, something good did come out of it; Ali and Inoki struck up a life-long friendship.
Watch fight between Ali and Inoki
Leading up to the fight, the rules were changed multiple times in regards to the actual physical combat between the two. This last minute change in rules is what apparently caused the fight to turn into a debacle. Inoki laid on his back the entire bout and kicked at Ali’s legs. Muhammad did receive some bruises and cuts on his legs from all of the kicks. In fact, some say that Ali was never the same after this fight due to the punishment that his legs took from Inoki’s kicks.
Ali only threw about a half dozen punches the entire fight as he circled around the ring for most of the bout trying to provoke Inoki into standing up. The fight ended in a 15 round draw and the live crowd littered the ring with garbage in protest. Although the fight didn’t live up to the hype, it brought a lot of attention back to Japanese pro-wrestling and it made Inoki an even bigger star.
Ali’s adventure into pro-wrestling didn’t begin or end with Inoki. A few weeks prior to his bout with Inoki, Ali got into a scuffle with the late Gorilla Monsoon on June 2, 1976. Ali interrupted a wrestling match between Baron Mikel Scicluna and the late Gorilla Monsoon. His taunting upset Gorilla and forced the 400 pound wrestler to pick up Ali, give him an airplane spin and then slam him on the mat.
Ali would return to the wrestling ring nearly 10 years later as he appeared at the first WrestleMania on march 31st, 1985. Ali was a special guest referee in the main event match which pitted Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, with Jimmy Snuka in their corner, against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff with Cowboy Bob Orton in their corner. Ali even got involved in the match as he punched Piper during a brawl between all of the wrestlers.
Although Ali will be remembered for his legendary boxing career and political stances, Muhammad Ali’s foray into the squared circle will also live on in the annals of pro-wrestling.
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