Muhammad Ali’s Strangest Fight

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By Matt Edwards

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was known for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. But had his reputation been set by the Botch Job at the Budokan (as we’re dubbing it) rather than the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thrilla in Manila, you’d be more likely to describe him as stinging like a sponge while flapping like an irate puffin.

In 1976, nearing the end of his career, Ali signed up to fight Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki. Inoki was a huge figure in Japanese culture and was renowned for suplexes and jumping kicks. The match took place in Tokyo at the Budokan arena on June 26, 1976, and despite being billed as anything goes, it featured a bizarre set of rules more in line with a pro wrestling match.

The legitimacy of the match was, fairly, questioned. Was this a real fight or a choreographed wrestling match?

Well, apparently even the combatants weren’t sure. There were conflicting stories. Some suggest that the fight was to be choreographed, but that Ali hadn’t been informed that he was going to lose and that when he found out that bit of information, he refused to take a fall. Another version of the story has it that Ali and his team hadn’t realized it would be a real fight and backed out upon seeing Inoki in training.

Regardless, the fight would go ahead. The match was set to broadcast in various countries and there were huge amounts of money invested. Ali was said to be earning $6 million for the bout. Thus, it went ahead as a fight, but with a new set of rules more in line with mixed martial arts, such as one which prevented Inoki from throwing Ali or kicking him, unless Inoki had one knee in contact with the canvas.

Have you ever tried kicking someone with one knee on the ground? It’s incredibly difficult, and Inoki spent 15 rounds throwing Ali off of his game by doing just that. Inoki started the fight by attempting a sliding kick on Ali’s legs, and then spent much of the fight kicking at Ali's legs while scooting around the canvas on his back. Ali was unsure of how to mount any offense under these circumstances, and so he didn’t (though ever the entertainer, Ali did continue to taunt his opponent throughout the rounds). Over the course of the match, Ali threw six punches. The fight briefly came to life in the sixth round when Inoki was able to pull Ali down and sit on him, but the referee soon split them apart.

The match was ruled a draw.

The crowd booed. Ali sustained some serious damage to his legs, with two blood clots forming as a result of this match. Inoki’s legend grew in Japan, though his fans blamed Ali’s team for the poor fight, citing the strange rules imposed on Inoki.

Of course, almost every detail surrounding the fight is questionable, given the association with pro wrestling, where maintaining the illusion of the show is of the utmost importance. Not up for debate: that no one would have faked such an odd and boring fight in the name of entertainment.

[h/t The Guardian]

This post originally appeared on our UK site.