In the history of professional ring wars, boxing and wrestling, there have been a few historic crossovers, matches between the two sports that have drawn great public attention. For the most part, these have been staged events, which were choreographed and the outcomes planned before the event. But on several occasions, it was the real deal, where a boxer and a wrestler fought it out.
Professional wrestling involves performance, management, and marketing of an athletic involving mock combat and theatre. It is really a display of athleticism and strength. While these events are seen by the sports world and public as "fake", it is very physical and requires intense specialized training. Professional boxing, or prizefighting, is a legitimate, regulated, sanctioned sport. All legal professional bouts must be approved by a state athletic commission to guarantee the fighters' safety. The bouts, fought for purses, are ten to fifteen rounds of jaw breaking physical combat.
It is only natural that the public would be intrigued by the idea of a matchup of the heroes of these two sports worlds. Usually, the boxer was at the end of his career and this gave him a chance at visibility and an additional payday. I have chosen to review only the matches involving fighters from boxing's heavyweight division. Listed below are the significant boxer-wrestler matchups of history.
1. Jack Johnson, On May 14, 1913, Jack Johnson was convicted in Chicago, IL of violating the White Slave Traffic Act. This was in relation to his marriage to a white woman. He fled the US in June. He settled in France, but was stripped of his heavyweight title by the French Federation of Boxing Clubs. While awaiting reinstatement, to make a living and to stay in shape, Johnson accepted matches with several wrestlers. (Click Here to read more.)
2. Primo Carnera, heavyweight champion in 1933-34, long after his boxing career was over and he was left broke, turned to pro wrestling from 1946-63. In his early years, the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder was one of the biggest pro wrestling box office attractions in the country. While considered poor as a wrestling performer, he was a headliner almost his entire run. (Click Here to read more.)
3. Jack Dempsey was the king of boxing in the 1920's and Ed “Strangler” Lewis was the king of wrestling, there were serious efforts to have them face off in a legitimate match. But after Dempsey did some training with wrestlers, he lost interest in the offers. On July 1, 1940, in Atlanta, a 45-year-old Dempsey, whose boxing career ended a dozen years earlier, met Clarence “Cowboy” Luttrell, as part of a pro wrestling show. Dempsey also did boxing matches with famous pro wrestlers Bill Longson and Wild Bull Curry on pro wrestling shows, which were likely more along the lines of traditional pro wrestling. (Click Here to read more.)
Jersey Joe Walcott,
while in his late 40s, long after his boxing career ended,
participated in what were billed as former world heavyweight
champion boxer vs. world heavyweight champion wrestler matches
against Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz. They were both scripted matches,
with the wrestlers winning.
(Click Here to read
6. Archie Moore had two knockout wins over pro wrestlers on pro
wrestling events, a 1956 win over “Professor” Roy Shire, and a 1963
win over “Iron” Mike DiBiase, the stepfather of ’80s wrestling star
Ted “Million Dollar Man” DiBiase. But both were along the lines of
pro wrestling feuds, done identically. Moore refereed matches where
the villain blamed Moore’s officiating for costing them the match,
and challenged Moore to boxing matches. Moore also refereed big
wrestling matches later in his life.
(Click Here to read
7. Muhammad Ali, the most famous boxer of all time, faced Antonio Inoki of Japan on July 25, 1976, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo in a match broadcast on closed-circuit television throughout the U.S. Inoki was an early MMA, "mixed martial arts" champion. Throughout his career, Ali made numerous appearances at pro wrestling events in the United States and once in North Korea. Ali was a referee at the first WrestleMania in 1985. (Click Here to read more.)
8. Chuck Wepner was a heavyweight boxer from Bayonne, New
Jersey. Known as the Bayonne Bleeder, Wepner was an obscure boxer
who went 15 rounds with world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in a
1975 fight and became the inspiration for Rocky Balboa. On July 25,
1976, Wepner squared off against Andre the Giant in a closed circuit
undercard to the Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki fight in Tokyo. The
Wepner-Andre match was held at Shea Stadium in New York. It may well
be the most memorable bout between the two sports in history.
(Click Here to read
10. Eric "Butterbean" Esch, known as the "King of 4 Rounders", burst onto the Toughman Contest scene in the United States before entering the world of professional boxing in 1994. He was a five time World Toughman Heavyweight Champion and eventually the IBA World Super-Heavyweight Champion in professional boxing. In 1999, Esch took on a wrestler, Bart Gunn, in highly publicized, closed circuit WrestleMania event. (Click Here to read more.)