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When Ali fought a wrestler: The farcical precursor to Mayweather vs. McGregor

AP Photo
This went on for 15 rounds.
  • Kabir Chibber
By Kabir Chibber


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

In the hours before Conor McGregor, a superstar of the world of mixed martial arts, takes on boxing legend and odds-on favorite Floyd Mayweather, let us remember another mismatch between two giants of their respective sporting worlds.

One was Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer of all time. The other was Antonio Inoki, the Japanese pro wrestler. The fight took place in 1976 at the Budokan in Tokyo.

AP Photo
Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali.

“OK, so when do we do the rehearsal?” Ali supposedly asked Inoki after their multi-million-dollar event had been agreed to, on the understanding it was a fix. ”No, no. This isn’t an exhibition. It’s a real fight!” Inoki replied. The Guardian, in a 4,000-word epic retelling of the event, called it “15 rounds of pure slapstick:”

Before the ringing had stopped, Inoki had sprinted the 16-feet gap between the two men, and thrown himself feet first at Ali in a deranged two-footed tackle. Ali sidestepped, Inoki missed. Before the two could square up, Inoki threw another lunging kick, missed again, and landed flat on his back.

And then things started to get really silly.

Inoki didn’t get up. He lay on his back at Ali’s feet and refused to stand.

Bret “The Hitman” Hart, the legendary pro wrestler who worked Inoki’s corner, said in his autobiography that the Nation of Islam may have had something to do with that. “The black Muslims who were backing Ali made it clear to Inoki that if he laid a finger on their champ, they would kill him,” Hart wrote. “That’s why Inoki laid on his back for fifteen rounds, kicking Ali in the shins so as not to use his hands.”

It was actually a double main event—the other bout was Andre the Giant vs. Chuck Wepner, the inspiration for Rocky who had taken on Ali the previous year and whom we’ve noted was the Conor McGregor of his day.

Watch the whole thing here.

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