“Inoki can use his bare fists. He can use karate. This is serious. There’s $10 million involved. I wouldn’t pull a fraud on the public. This is real. There’s no plan. The blood. The holds. The pain. Everything is going to be real. I’m not here in this time of my life to come out with some phony action. I want you to know this is real.”
—Muhammad Ali, June 14, 1976, The Tonight Show
Almost everyone has heard of Muhammad Ali, but far fewer have heard about his fight with iconic Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki. Though the 1976 fight has been all but forgotten by most Americans, the unprecedented ‘boxer-versus-wrestler’ match-up remains the model upon which the explosive rise of MMA is based, and revolutionized sports entertainment as we know it.
In the summer of 1976, just eight months after winning the infamous “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, arguably the most famous athlete in history, flew to Tokyo to challenge Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki in what would be called the “martial arts championship of the world.” Because of its sheer newness, the “official” fight rules were concocted at the last minute, increasing the anticipation of the event immensely for the participants and spectators alike. The fight was widely broadcast, airing to an audience of 1.4 billion in 34 countries.
Author Josh Gross, a prolific writer and journalist in the MMA space, writes about the Ali vs. Inoki fight, the events leading up to it (including one bizarre scheme to nick Ali with a razor if the fight got out of control), and its catalytic role in the rise of sports entertainment in his upcoming book, Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment. Thanks to Gross’s skills as a writer and to the existence of many pre-fight interviews with Ali and Inoki, readers are transported back in time, and can almost feel as though they are witnessing the fight firsthand.
Look out for Ali vs. Inoki, which will be released in June 2016!