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[1976-06-25-WWWF-Shea Stadium, NY] Antonio Inoki vs Muhammad Ali (Boxer vs Wrestler)

paul sosnowski

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  • GSR changed the title to [1976-06-25-WWWF-Shea Stadium, NY] Antonio Inoki vs Muhammad Ali (Boxer vs Wrestler)
  • 4 years later...

I enjoyed the hell out of this. We've all heard of the story about how its just 15 rounds of Inoki kicking Ali's leg while butt scooting, but there's actually quite a bit more to it than that. First 1/3 or so is all about Ali's attempted mind games. He digs deep into his playbook with so much great trash talk, funny faces, and goading Inoki to hit him on the ropes. None of it really works, but it's entertaining as hell to watch. I also noticed Blassie in his corner giving him advice between rounds, which had me howling with laughter. Inoki came across as the ultimate badass with how he just remained stoic and stuck to his gameplan through all this. Here he is against the guy universally regarded as the best fighter and most famous man on the planet trying the same psychological tactics that brought down Liston and Foreman, and he just refuses to let it affect him. Felt very inspirational. Besides that, the narrative of Inoki kicking Ali from his back the whole fight is actually pretty wrong. Most of his best shots seemed to come from him performing some sort of dropkick aimed at the knee from standing, and I enjoyed seeing him find ways to setup the move while staying out of Ali's range.

The middle rounds saw more of the same offensively from Inoki. It really started to become apparent here that Ali's leg was in rough shape and it slowly becomes a regular occurrence for Inoki's kicks to stagger Ali, if not knock him down. In what felt like something that should be remembered as one of the most iconic combat sports moments and the real birth of MMA, Inoki even scores a takedown at one point and goes for a submission, which leads to Ali looking more vulnerable than he has in any of his boxing fights to this point when he desperately grabs the ropes for a break. I love how satisfied Karl Gotch looks in Inoki's corner between rounds, like he's seeing his dream come to fruition. The overall entertainment takes a hit between Ali mostly stopping his trash talk and the fight being stopped to tape up Inoki's boot, but it wasn't too bad and we also get to see a funny ankle lock attempt from Ali. Ali having to be convinced by LeBelle to not walk out of the fight after an Inoki low blow was also a cool moment.

Ali's attempts to defend his bad leg don't really work (why didn't he just switch stances? lol), and by the later rounds the leg becomes ridiculously swollen to the point that they should have just stopped the fight. The action also slows down as Inoki, seemingly sensing that he's ahead on points, starts kicking less and starts looking for takedown attempts so he can get a sub. Ali manages to avoid getting taken down by just circling Inoki from near the ropes and Inoki has to to revert to the kicking strat at points. This is the point where Ali actually starts hitting Inoki, and by that I mean by the end of the fight he's managed like 3 or 4 clean jabs in the entire thing. I've seen complaints about Inoki not being more aggressive with trying to wrestle down Ali, but I felt it actually made a lot of sense why he fought like he did. Trying to go for Ali while on the ropes would be a no-win situation as he'd be wide open for punches and Ali could easily force a break even if things went to the ground. At the same time, Ali trying to meet Inoki in the middle and go for a KO would also be a bad idea with the condition his leg was in. The fight would probably be kind of boring at this point if not for just how impressive it was that Ali was even standing up by this point. He even does the shuffle, which had to hurt like hell. While the earlier part of the fight brought out the Inoki mark in me for seeing him out-fight Ali, the end part brings out the Ali mark in me for seeing him refuse to quit. Neat finish with Ali finally managing to score a punch on Inoki in the midst of one of his dropkicks to the leg. 

So, yeah, fantastic wrestling match/boxing fight/MMA fight/whatever. It's a thoroughly entertaining and unique spectacle with massive significance in cementing Inoki as a legend and the origins of MMA. Don't believe the haters, this is great stuff.

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