On June 26, 1976, Muhammad Ali fought Antonio Inoki in a wrestler vs boxer match 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 World 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 TV locations in the US. It was 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 upon what he saw that night. That movie was Rocky. Additionally, his fight at this event was the inspiration behind the fight between Rocky and Thunderlips in Rocky III.
Major Rules Changes:
The rules of the match were announced several months in advance. However, two days before the match a whole bunch of new rules were added which severely limited the moves that each man could perform. The rule change 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 three decades.
The majority of the match saw Inoki on his back kicking Ali’s leg. In the 15 rounds, Ali threw less than a dozen punches. In this match, the only losers were the fans. The match itself was declared a draw. Ali made over $6 million for the match while Inoki made only $2 million. The wrestling company that he had a stake in got to keep the gate from the live event and portions of the closed circuit telecast.
The Aftermath for Both Men:
Ali remained the champion (except for a few months in 1978) until he lost to Larry Holmes in 1980. 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.
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, at WrestleMania XV, Butterbean knocked out Bart Gunn in less than a minute.
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
Note: There were many more wrestling cards held that day
Sources: asahi-net, Onlineworldofwrestling.com, the historyofwwe.com, & prowrestlinghistory.com