Muhammad Ali’S Untold Legacy: Unearthing The Jaw-Dropping Mma Encounter From 1976

We think of Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest boxers to ever walk the face of the earth.

A former heavyweight champion, Ali was arguably the first global sports superstar we’d ever seen.

But not just that, he was someone who truly transcended boxing with everything he achieved outside the ring.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why so many people – including current elite athletes – view him as their idol or hero.

Ali’s place in boxing’s history books is cemented, but it turns out the great man was a mixed martial arts pioneer too – well, sort of.

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.

We remember the champ for his fast footwork, Matrix-esque head movement and lightning-quick jab.


But leg kicks? Surely not.

When the first bell rang in front of a sold out crowd in Tokyo, Inoki came out with a fly karate-style kick which missed spectacularly.

The Japanese star then spent the entire first round with lying down on the canvas throwing up-kicks in Ali’s direction.

Ali didn’t hesitate in throwing them back, a couple of which landing on his grounded opponent as he danced around Inoki.


The latter rounds saw Inoki trying to chop down Ali with leg kicks again before eventually pulling guard.


they were the sort of flying slide tackles that Roy Keane would have been proud of.

And it turns out the unique kicks were doing some damage too with reports emerging after the fight that they had caused two blood clots that almost resulted in Ali’s leg being amputated.

Throughout the 10 round exhibition, Ali only landed a couple of jabs on his opponent’s chin.

The fight was eventually declared a draw but viewers were left far fro impressed with The New York Times labelling it his least memorable bout.

interestingly, though, at the time mixed martial arts wasn’t the colossal super-sport that it has evolved into today.

Yes, there was mixed martial artists around, but they weren’t competing for championship belts under sanctioned rules like they are in the UFC or Bellator.

So, in some roundabout way, this match-up between Ali and Inoki – even if it was a slightly disappointing spectacle – was the first of its time.

Given his sheer popularity, Ali did have other exhibitions during and after his boxing career, but none were quite like this one over in Japan.


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