After the news spread on social media in the morning, some may have been amnesiacs. That Seventies, Weekly Variety, Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki; Remember?
The fight between two “kings” of two worlds also stirred up in Bangladesh. It has been written in the newspapers. Indeed there is a storm in the cup of tea. The current ‘senior’ citizens of the country can say that. They were as young as Ali-Inoki. The “greatest” of boxing left the world six years ago. Today his companion is Inoki. Yes, the Japanese professional wrestler, martial artist and politician—whose real name is Muhammad Hossein—known in the ring as Antonio Inoki, died today. After learning the news, many of that generation must have remembered the memories of that fight in 1976.
Inoki’s life is one of work. Japan’s professional wrestling has become famous in the world. Inoki put the sport on a solid footing by organizing martial arts matches between wrestling stars and other ‘combat sports. He also had good relations with North Korea. He has visited the country at least 30 times to maintain peace.
What’s more, his role in rescuing hostages in Iraq was no less! The question may arise, how did he do these things in another world as the ‘king’ of the game world? Inoki is the first player to enter politics from wrestling, which is not reported.
A lot of information about him is known by searching the internet. He was discovered by Rikidozan, the ‘father’ of Japanese professional wrestling. Born in Yokohama in 1943 during World War II, they moved to Brazil with family at age 13 and worked in coffee plantations. At the age of 17, he started professional wrestling. Pitrupradatta changed his name two years after entering professional wrestling in 1960. The rest is history—a 12-time world champion in professional wrestling! There are other titles to be won in this game.
But wrestling isn’t the reason Inoki’s death is remembered. His fight with Muhammad Ali in 1976 is said to be the forerunner of modern mixed martial arts. Inoki’s fans remember the match at Tokyo’s Budokon Hall as the ‘Fight of the Century. Yes, the fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in Madison Square in 1971 was called the ‘Fight of the Century. There was no shortage of applications! But today, time demands to tell the story of the struggle of the next century. Inoki’s time is up.
In May of that year (1976), Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, was in high spirits after defeating former English heavyweight champion Richard Dunne. Siddhahast Ali was then the heavyweight champion in a butterfly fight in the ring. Inoki enriched himself by learning ‘catch wrestling’ from Belgian legend Carl Gotch. He set a new goal. Organize mixed martial arts exhibition matches with champions in various combat sports. Inoki took this revolutionary step to prove that professional wrestling could compete with other sports in this genre.
That exhibition match against Ali also established specific rules, which later became permanent in mixed martial arts. Inoki kicked Ali 107 times in the ring and would have been disqualified immediately in a wrestling ring. Still, the two sides negotiated the rules since it was an exhibition match and to add a new dimension to the sport. However, boxing journalist Jim Murphy gave exciting information. The plan was to beat Inoki in front of a home crowd. Ali would accidentally punch the referee in the face, disqualifying him and giving Inoki the win—this was the original plan.
But everyone knew that the ‘greatest’ was a man made of other metals. Ali disagreed. Inoki later stated that before the fight, Ali asked him, ‘So, when do we start rehearsals?’ Inoki told the truth, ‘No, no rehearsals.’ This is no longer an exhibition match and will be a real fight.’ Before the war, both sides agreed on what could and could not be done.
Two legends had a great fight till the 14th round. The two shook hands before the start of the 15th and final game. The audience thought, maybe there is going to be a dramatic settlement. But it didn’t happen anymore. As before, Inoki relied on kicks and grappling while Ali counter-jabbed. The two shook hands again after the match ended, but the audience was not satisfied. They were probably waiting to see a knockout punch from someone. Among the judges, wrestler Kokichi Endo declared Ali the winner by a margin of 74–72 points, boxing judge Ko Tayama declared Inoki the winner by a margin of 72–68 points, and the final decision rested with match referee Labelle. He said the match drew at 71-71 to save both teams!
But that made the situation more heated. Both legends claimed themselves as the victors by arguing in their favour. But the water was not muddied later. The match, played in front of 14,500 spectators at Tokyo’s Budokon Hall, was watched by 1.4 billion viewers worldwide. That fight brought in $200,000, which is $100 million in today’s economy. But not the money; the biggest takeaway from that fight was the friendship between the two legends.
Inoki’s death may have opened a new page in the friendship of the other two!