Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest boxers, possibly one of the greatest sportsmen, of all time.
Nicknamed “The Greatest”, he is regarded as one of the most significant sports figures of the 20th century, and is frequently ranked as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.
In 1999, he was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated and the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC. Many feel that Ali was the first global sports superstar we’d ever seen.
He truly transcended boxing with everything he achieved outside the ring. Many people, including current sports performers view him as their idol.
Ali’s status as a legend in boxing is assured, however Ali also has an important place in the history of mixed martial arts.
MMA hasn’t always been the global event that is has become today where, the UFC is now one of the most recognisable fighting promotions in the world with global superstars like Ireland’s Conor McGregor as well as well-known names such as Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
However, MMA has much deeper roots and Ali is perhaps the highest profile name that surfaces when you cast your eye back over the history of the sport.
In 1976, Ali agreed to a mixed-rules fight with Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki after the pair had flirted with the idea of a crossover bout.
Josh Gross told newstalk.com: “It was a very busy time for Muhammad Ali. This was eight months after the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, he had three boxing bouts between the contest with Joe Fraizer and this contest with Antonio Inoki.”
Inoki to many would be an unknown quantity, but in Japan – even to this day – he was an icon of professional wrestling.
Back in 1976, sort of during the tail-end of his decorated career, Ali decided to partake in an exhibition bout against Japanese professional wrestler and martial artist Antonio Inoki.
Ali is best remembered for his superb reactions and head movement, his rapid footwork, and lightning-quick jab. Leg kicks are not something we would associate with him.
On the first bell in front of a capacity crowd in Tokyo, Inoki came out with a fly karate-style kick which missed spectacularly.
The wrestling icon then spent the entire first round lying down on the canvas throwing up-kicks in Ali’s direction.
Ali was quick to respond by throwing kicks back, landing a couple as he danced around him in trademark style.
In the later rounds Inoki tried continuously to chop down Ali with leg kicks again before eventually pulling guard. Much of the action involved movements similar to sliding tackles.
Some of Inoki’s kicks caused damage with some post fight reports suggesting that they had caused two blood clots in Ali’s leg which almost resulted in an amputation.
Throughout the duration of the 10-round exhibition, Ali only succeeded in landing a handful of jabs on his opponent’s chin.
The fight was eventually declared a draw but viewers were generally not impressed. The New York Times labelling it as Ali’s least memorable bout.
Mixed martial artists existed in the 1970s but they weren’t competing for championship belts under sanctioned rules like they are in the UFC or Bellator.
So even if the bout between Ali and Inoki was a disappointing spectacle at the time it was the first of its type.
Ali was involved in other exhibitions, especially at the end and after his career, however none of them were quite like this.