In one of the most unusual matchups in sports history, Muhammad Ali met Japanese wrestling champion, Antonio Inoki in Tokyo, Japan for the "World Martial Arts Championship". The fight was part of a closed circuit worldwide broadcast, which featured an undercard bout of Chuck Wepner against Andre the Giant in New York.
Ali-lnoki Satisfied, But Fans Throw Trash
TOKYO (AP)- The bizarre confrontation billed as the "World Martial Arts Championship" may not have decided once and for all whether a boxer can defeat a wrestler. But it did succeed in squashing Muhammad Ali's boast that he could whip anyone, anywhere.
Ali, in a listless 15-round match, couldn't better Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. The bout ended in a draw with both men declaring themselves satisfied and a few dissatisfied spectators shouting for their money back.
The fight featured prancing, jeering, and rope-hanging with Ali fending off flying thrusts and kicks from Inoki, who ended up spending most of the fight on his back (video).
"I just couldn't hit him while he was on the floor," Ali complained afterward.
Inoki also had a complaint. "I was handicapped by the rule that said no tackling, no karate chops, no punching when on the mat," he said.
But both were apparently satisfied with the reported winnings- $6.1 million for Ali and $4 million for Inoki. The fans, who paid between $17 and $1,000 for a seat, threw garbage- waste paper and an occasional orange peel- into the ring at the drowsy conclusion to the 45-minute standoff.
Shouts of "Money back, money back," were heard from the lower-priced seats. The newspaper Asahi Shimbun summed up the bout with the headline: "The admission price was high, the fight low," but the participants disagreed.
"Inoki is the best in his type of fighting, I'm the best in mine, and this shows that when two great stars fight each other, they don't get hurt," Ali said after the bout.
While not hurt badly, the boxer who stings like a bee got stung time and again by Inoki's kicks and his doctor said it would take Ali several weeks to recover completely.
Ali said before the match that he picked up an education of "dirty tricks" from American pro wrestler Fred Blassie. But Ali apparently hadn't expected Inoki's non-stop kicking from the mat.
For his part, Inoki said he had toughened himself by having a karate expert practice on his "Pelican" jaw. With all but two of Ali's punches in range, however, this also was appeared like unnecessary exertion for the wrestler.
Another match with a wrestler in Ali's future? According to referee Gene LeBell, Ali plans to confront professional grappler Bruno Sammartino in New York after fights with Ken Norton and George Foreman
Not-So Legendary Nights:
The Story of Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki
By Jim Murphy
Decades before mixed martial arts became popular in the United States, events matching fighters of different disciplines were very common in Japan. They weren't called "mixed martial arts" at the time, but that's essentially what they were. Like MMA in this country, Japanese MMA has its roots in professional wrestling (called puroresu in Japan). Since the end of WWII, pro wrestling has been very popular in Japan and at the risk of oversimplifying things it is, on balance, treated with more respect there than here in the US. The Japanese never had a problem with the predetermined outcomes of puroresu and viewed it for the entertainment spectacle that it is. They also didn't have a problem when fighters from more legit sports would enter the pro wrestling world. There's an entire history of pro wrestlers fighting specialists from other martial arts (particularly judo) that I'm leaving out, but during the 1970's Antonio Inoki began to put the concept of "mixed martial arts" on the map with his matches against fighters from other disciplines.
Before and after his matchup against Ali, Inoki would frequently compete against other martial artists in what are widely accepted to be "worked" (ie: having a predetermined outcome) matches though a minority continues to argue that they were "shoots" (ie: actual fights with no predetermined finish). Inoki fought boxer Chuck Wepner, judo Gold Medalist Wilhelm Ruska and world karate champion Willie Williams among others. His most famous match internationally, however, was against Muhammad Ali. On one level, this match put MMA on the map internationally. On another level, unfortunately, it was such a fiasco that it probably set MMA back a decade in the United States.
WHAT WAS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN:
There are differing accounts of how arguably the best heavyweight boxer in the history of the sport found himself in a ring in Tokyo's Budokan Arena against a pro wrestler. One thing is certain--it was viewed as an easy payday for Ali, who'd lost a good chunk of his prime earning years to his controversial stance over the Vietnam War. That's what got him there in the first place, and that's what kept him there after the two sides began squabbling over the rules and the outcome of the fight. Some suggest that it was supposed to be a "fair fight" going in and once Ali saw Inoki spar he insisted on rules changes to tilt the fight in his favor. Given Inoki's background, however, I find this claim to be dubious at best (though the rules were decidedly pro-Ali). The version of the story that I consider most plausible is that Ali's handlers knew that the fight was supposed to be a "work" all along. They made the deal with Inoki's people based on this fact, and were all on board as to the outcome of the match and how it would "finish". The only person who wasn't aware of the game plan, however, was Ali himself. When informed that he was supposed to "take a dive", even in a convoluted fashion, Ali refused. No agreement was reached between the two camps and at the last minute a legit fight transpired. At its worse, the event clearly looks like a match between a couple of guys who don't want to fight each other.
The "original" plan was to have Inoki win in a controversial manner that would keep his undefeated streak in "MMA" matches intact while allowing Ali to "save face". According to some sources, the planned finish would have Ali throw a punch that would "accidentally" hit the ref and knock him to the canvas. Ali would check on the welfare of the fallen official and while down on one knee would fall victim to Inoki's enzugiri finisher (basically a kick to the back of the head). The ref would "come to" in time to count Ali out and award Inoki the victory. This finish would have allowed Inoki to claim the win, but would leave Ali smelling like a rose since his concern for the official was his downfall.
So that was the general idea, but after Ali "refused to lose" the promoters were left with a sold out Budokan, a worldwide closed circuit audience and two fighters who despite every effort to the contrary would actually have to fight each other.
WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING:
As noted above, the rules of the bout were changed a number of times right up to bell time. Many conspiracy theorists have noted that these rules were never announced to the crowd on fight night, leaving many with the impression that they were being made up as they went along. Action in the fight would further validate this view, but there actually were rules that both camps agreed to heading into the fight. Not surprisingly, most of these were designed to protect Ali. In fact, they were so one-sided that if Inoki hadn't been concerned about preserving his big payday he would have been justified in not fighting. Inoki was prohibited from punching with a closed fist or striking Ali in the head (ostensibly since he wasn't wearing gloves). Inoki was prohibited from using any sort of submission maneuver. The most absurd limitation was that Inoki was prohibited from "grapping or trying to take Ali to the ground". A few observers noted that this was like not letting Ali throw a jab.
The painfully boring event that ensued was, despite many suggestions to the contrary, an actual fight. Inoki spent most of the match on the ground, unsuccessfully imploring Ali to join him and throwing kicks at his opponent's legs. Ali did even less throughout the match, throwing a few jabs and trying to protect his knees and legs. The fight was scored on a 5 point system, and ended up in a 74-74 draw. It's worth noting that Inoki had three points deducted for very dubious infractions: the first for throwing (and missing) with a drop kick, the second for throwing an elbow to Ali's head and the third for a swift kick to Ali's ribs. Had these deductions not occurred, Inoki would have won by decision. From one standpoint of boxing judging theory, he probably deserved to win since he at least tried to execute a fight plan despite the restrictions he faced. For all practical purposes, however, a draw was the proper outcome. Both guys got paid and no one won, least of all the fans.
An interesting sidenote to the fight is that the referee was former pro wrestler "Judo" Gene Lebell, a legit tough guy, confidant to the late Bruce Lee and judo legend whom some have suggested could have beaten up both Ali and Inoki at the same time despite his advanced age. Had he chosen to do so, it would certainly have been welcomed by those watching the fight live and on closed circuit.
In Japan, Inoki's popularity was greater than ever--in a perverse way he was something of a hero due to his trying to fight despite the rules being stacked so soundly against him. He remained one of the country's most popular professional wrestlers and even enjoyed a career in Japan's parliament. Without missing a beat, he quickly resumed his series of fights against other martial artists who were apparently all more comfortable with the "worked" environment of pro wrestling. Among his "victims" was none other than Leon Spinks, presumably serving as some sort of vindication for his draw with Ali. On the other hand, another low point in boxer v. wrestler combat occurred in 1991 when Trevor Berbick showed up in Tokyo expecting a "work" against Nobuhiko Takada and came unglued when the Japanese wrestler started pounding him with Muay Thai leg kicks .
The popularity of these matches led to a number of promotions that were essentially hybrids of martial arts and pro wrestling, and these led to the big Japanese MMA promotions of today--PRIDE and K-1. After Inokiís role with New Japan started to diminish following some front office machinations, he started a new pro wrestling promotion called Inoki Genome Federation (IGF). Many doubt if it has the finances to weather the long term but Inoki has brought in a ton of top talent including Josh Barnett, Kurt Angle, Don Frye and Brock Lesnar.
Back in the USA, the match didn't really diminish Ali to any significant degree. It was--and still is--viewed as a curious footnote to the career of arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer in history. The real loser in America was mixed martial arts. Full contact karate enjoyed some cult popularity, but the predominant view of MMA was that of laughing stock. This mindset was evident in the boxer vs. wrestler matchup between Rocky Balboa and Hulk "Thunderlips" Hogan in "Rocky III". The sport of mixed martial arts would languish for years until the creation of the UFC. It would then languish for a few more years as the organization struggled to find itself and promote MMA as a legitimate athletic contest. Things are obviously changed for the better for mixed martial arts, but no doubt that the public disdain for the Ali/Inoki matchup made the initial going all the more difficult.
Rules were the biggest problem for this match. Especially after Ali's guys saw Inoki's sparring, they had a strong attitude to threaten Inoki's side that they would boycott the match unless the restrictions are added with their requests. Inoki was forced to fight under a lot of restrictions.
Before the match, the rules weren't explained to the audience. If rules were recognized by the audience, the match might be evaluated in differently.
It was a problem that they didn't agree with the rules until the last minute, but more than that, the fact was that Inoki was not able to do much under these rules. So, they could not publically announce the rules.
Final Rules (June 23rd)
15 3min rounds, with 1min intervals
5point system by a referee and two judges.
Boxing trunks or pro-wrestling pants
Boxing shoes or barefoot
Boxing glove, karate protective glove, bare hand, or bandaged hand. Different choice can be made for each round.
If used, the bandage must be approved by the opponent.
Any material can not be applied on the body or gloves unless injured.
Judge: total scores from referee and judges if 15rounds are over.
Pinfall: After 3 counts with both shoulders are pinned on the mat
Knockout: After 10 counts by knock out
Give Up: A competitor or chief second forfeits
Injury: If the injury makes the fighter to discontinue. However, only the pre-assigned doctor can judge the injury.
Hitting below the belt with fist
Hitting with knee or elbow
Hitting vital part
Attacking eyes with fingers or open glove
Offense after the referee orders a break
Hitting the back of the neck or kidney
Every chops used in pro-wrestling except slapping
Hitting throat Note: kicks regularly used in pro-wrestling are prohibited. However, when the wrestler's knees are on the ground or squatting down, he can use foot or legs to kick the opponent's legs. Must give the opponent a chance to show his will when asking him to give up. In case a big foul is made, referee can disqualify a fighter if he continues to have fouls after the first or second warning.
Boxer must follow the regular boxing rules when standing. Additionally, boxer can use punches on the ground position. Also, boxer can change to wresting style.
Wrestler must follow the regular pro-wrestling rules with the exceptions mentioned above. Wrestler can not use punches when he is using holds but can hit with arm.
If fighter(s) touches the rope, referee must break, and both fighters must return to the middle of the ring.
If fighter(s) goes out of the ring, he must return to the ring within 20 counts.
If knocked out with a punch, 8 counts are given. No offense is allowed during this time.