Antonio Inoki passed away in the early hours of 1st October at the age of 79. While he may just be a professional wrestler for many, it was him along with Muhammad Ali that may have very well laid the roots for modern MMA to grow.
The two legends from two different world of combat met at Nippon Budokan arena in Japan, in June of 1976. By this time though Ali was still a reigning champion his best days were far behind him. He had been through brutal wars in his career and was looking for perfect sunset moment to retire.
In fact, less than a year before the fight against Inoki, Ali completed his trilogy against Joe Fraizer in a bout that nearly killed him, now known as the Thrilla In Manila. Hence this was seen as a rather easy pit stop for the champion before he went back to boxing.
Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki: 15 Rounds of Awkwardness
However, Ali couldn’t have been more wrong. Throngs of fans walked in to watch the two worlds collide. While Professional Wrestling is entirely scripted for entertainment, Inoki did have a catch wrestling and Karate background.
As people came to see a show, mixed with the spectacle of pro wrestling and the ferocity of boxing, what they got instead was a bizarre fight that ended without much clarity on what transpired. A classic Esparza vs Namajunas if you will. Inoki, when confronted with the prospecr of having to absorb Ali’s punches, simply chose to lie on his back.
Not content with that, Inoki started kicking on Ali’s shin from that position every time he came close to range. These antics, resulted in Ali’s leg profusely bleeding by the end of the seventh round. In fact, Inoki was also able to land a knockdown on Ali via a sweeping kick.
The very same continued for over 15 rounds, a constant cycle on Inoki opening up with a jumping side kick to then lay on the canvas and continue attacks on to his shin. The tactic ultimately fazed Ali enough that he started landing counters of his on, however he was struck in the groin during one of these attempts.
At the end of the 15th, Ali and Inoki embraced, not sure what exactly transpired. The crowd in a similar state of mind was a mix of loud cheers and roaring boos. Ultimately the bout was ruled a draw after one judge each scored the bout for Ali and Inoki with the third scoring it a draw after deducting points from Inoki.
A fitting start to the legacy of Mixed Martial Arts.