Antonio Inoki vs. Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki
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On June 26, 1976, Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki in a wrestler vs. boxer match at the Bodokan Hall in Tokyo, Japan. Antonio Inoki, the top wrestling star in Japan, was trying to prove that professional wrestling was the greatest form of martial arts. Prior to this match, he had beaten Olympic Judo Gold Medalist Willem Ruska. Muhammad Ali was the current heavyweight boxing champion. A year earlier, he beat Joe Frazier in “The Thrilla in Manila.”

The Presentation in America

Due to the time zone differences, the bout was seen on June 25 at over 150 closed circuit television locations in the United States. It was also the final match shown on wrestling cards throughout the country. The particular telecast anyone saw depended on where they lived and what their local wrestling territory was. In addition to the Inoki vs. Ali match, most of the other closed circuit locations saw Andre the Giant battle Chuck Wepner from Shea Stadium.

Andre vs. Wepner

This wrestler vs. boxer match only lasted three rounds. It ended by count out when Andre threw Chuck out of the ring. For those of you unfamiliar with “The Bayonne Bleeder,” he was knocked out in the 15th round against Ali in 1975. Sylvester Stallone wrote a famous screenplay based on what he saw that night. That movie was "Rocky." Additionally, his fight at this event was the inspiration behind the fight scene between Rocky and Thunderlips in "Rocky III." That scene, which featured Hulk Hogan, gave birth to Hulkamania.

Major Rules Changes

The rules of the match were announced several months in advance. However, two days before the event a whole bunch of new rules were added which severely limited the moves that each man could perform. The rule changes that had a major outcome on this match was that Inoki could only throw a kick if one of his knees were on the ground. The truth behind the last minute changes will never really be known as there are many stories that have been floating around for the past four decades.

The Match

The majority of the match saw Inoki on his back kicking Ali’s leg. In the 15 rounds, Muhammad Ali threw less than a dozen punches. While the match was declared a draw, the losers were the fans that paid to see it. For their work that night, Ali made over $6 million while Inoki made anywhere between $2 and $4 million. The money may not have been worth it for Ali though as not only was this an embarrassing blemish on his career, all the kicks to his legs caused them to bleed, get infected, and also resulted in him getting two blood clots.

The Aftermath for Both Men

Despite his ring performances sharply declining following this match, Ali remained the champion (except for a few months in 1978) until he lost to Larry Holmes in 1980. Four years later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's syndrome which has been linked to trauma to the head he sustained during his career. Ali went onto enter the wrestling world again when he was named the special enforcer referee for the main event of the first WrestleMania in 1985. Inoki remained a top wrestler in Japan and was elected into the Japanese House of Councils in 1989. In 1994, with over 170,000 fans in attendance, he beat Ric Flair in a match in North Korea that shattered previous wrestling attendance records. In 2010, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Future Wrestler vs Boxer Matches

As unbelievable as it may seem, there have been more wrestler vs. boxing matches, although none were as famous as this one. If you are wondering if there has ever been a legitimate wrestler vs boxer match, there was one at WrestleMania XV. Butterbean knocked out Bart Gunn in less than a minute. 

Highlights of Some of the Wrestling Cards Held On 6/25/76:

W.W.W.F. @ Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY

  • Ivan Putski beat Baron Mikel Scicluna
  • Jose Gonzalez & Kevin Sullivan fought to a 20-minute time-limit draw
  • 2 out of 3 Falls for the WWWF Tag Team Championship: Champs Chief Jay Strongbow & Billy White Wolf beat the Executioners
  • WWWF Championship: Champ Bruno Sammartino beat Stan Hansen via count-out
  • Wrestler vs Boxer: Andre the Giant beat Chuck Wepner in the third round by count-out

AWA in Chicago, Illinois 

  • Greg Gagne beat "Cowboy" Bob Orton
  • AWA Tag Team Championship: Champs The Crusher & Dick the Bruiser beat Blackjack Lanza & Bobby Duncum
  • AWA World Title: Champ Nick Bockwinkle fought Verne Gagne to a no contest

NWA in Atlanta, GA

  • Mike Graham beat Tony Charles
  • Bill Watts beat Dick Slater.
  • Mark Lewin beat Pak Song
  • Ken Mantell and Skip Young fought to a draw
  • Jack Brisco and Dory Funk, Jr fought to a draw

NWA @ Houston Coliseum in Houston, TX

  • NWA World Championship: Champ Terry Funk beat Rocky Johnson


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