If you think a made-for-T.V. affair along the lines of the Floyd Mayweather-Conor Mcgregor is unprecedented in the world of sport, you’re quite wrong.
Indeed, 40 years ago a champion heavyweight fighter took on a renowned fighter from another discipline in a match many thought would bring the sport of boxing into disrepute.
Ali, then heavyweight champion of the world, took on top-tier Japanese wrestler, Antonio Inoki in a 15-round bout at Budokan Hall in Tokyo.
The Louisville Lip wore light gloves. He was permitted to punch but could wrestle if he wanted to. Bare-handed Inoki was allowed to wrestle, throw, chop, and kick, but not punch. Hitting below the belt and head-butting were prohibited.
But before we get to the absurdity that was the match, let’s not bury the lede: If you think it’s absurd Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather stand to earn $1 million each for their bought, consider that in 1976 Muhammad Ali was paid…wait for it…Six. Million. Dollars.
Ali’s six million dollar-fight wasn’t much of a fight either, described thusly by Boxing magazine
“The non-event of the year as the two respective champions sauntered to a farcical 15 rounds draw before a disappointed crowd at the Budokan Hall, Tokyo.”
Essentially, Inoki scooted around on his butt for the rounds not wanting to get punched by Ali. And any time Ali would try and punch him, Inoki kicked the boxer off. Conversely, Inoki was unable to take the speedy Ali down and force him to wrestle as the champ just danced away. Probably the most entertaining part of the match was Ali’s verbal battering of his opponent.
So it went for 15 uneventful rounds. Ali occasionally flicked a kick at Inoki, but he didn’t even attempt a punch until the seventh round. Eventually, the match ended in a split decision with one referee scoring the contest a draw and the other two split.
Again, this is a real fight that actually took place, and Ali was paid $6 million for it. Not sure about Inoki, but $1 would have been generous for 15 rounds of crabwalking.
“We were both too smart,” Ali said afterwards. “I was thinking of my $6m the whole time”
Predictably, the crowd didn’t exactly love the action (or lack thereof). The hurled seat cushions and garbage into the ring while booing heartily.
However embarrassing the McGregor-Mayweather fight turns out to be for boxing, there’s no way it will rival the Ali-Endo showdown of 1976. And there’s no way Money Mayweather will laugh his way to the bank with nearly as much glee as Muhammad Ali did at his 15-round absurdity.
Here’s a clip of some of the action (if you can even call it that) from 1976.