POLLOCK’S NEWS UPDATE: The 45th Anniversary of Ali vs. Inoki

The 45th anniversary of the exhibition between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, Bellator and PFL tonight, MITB Qualifier on SmackDown.

Photo Courtesy: AP

POST IT NOTES

**A reminder that we won’t be doing Rewind-A-SmackDown tonight, instead, we will be doing a live Rewind-A-DynaDown on Saturday night at 10:15 p.m. ET for all members of the POST Wrestling Café. On the show Saturday, we will review both SmackDown and Saturday Night Dynamite along with taking your calls. We will back to our normal schedule next week when Dynamite returns on Wednesdays.

**Eric Marcotte will have a report tonight following the PFL card, which is headlined by two-time Olympic judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison competing against Cindy Dandois.

**We have released our first survey seeking feedback from our listeners. The survey is open to all Café members and can be accessed on our Patreon site. We are asking that responses be submitted by Thursday, July 1st. It’s an effort to provide the best content we can and see what works and doesn’t among our listeners.

**WH Park and I will be back with a new POST Puroresu this Sunday evening discussing a lot of news and shows.

THE ANNIVERSARY OF ALI VS INOKI

One of the more unique promotions in history occurred on this date in 1976 with the exhibition between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki at Budokan Hall.

The match occurred on June 26th in Japan but aired live in North America on June 25th because of the time difference.

In Japanese history, it is now viewed as a seismic event that is often distinguished as the birth of MMA in the country, although several other fights occurred prior to mixing disciplines. One of the most famous was the 1963 match between “Judo” Gene LeBell and Milo Savage that aired on network television in the U.S. Coincidentally, it was LeBell who served as the referee for Ali and Inoki.

By 1976, Inoki and New Japan Pro Wrestling were trying to get creative promotional opportunities to distinguish Inoki as the world’s greatest fighter. This was demonstrated on February 6, 1976, when New Japan brought Olympic judo gold medalist Willem Ruska to lose to Inoki.

During this time, Ali was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world laying claim to the WBA, WBC, and The Ring versions of the championship. He had already fought three times in 1976 before the offer came to work with Inoki with a reported figure of $6 million offered (he would only receive a fraction of the amount, believed to be $1.8 million, according to Josh Gross’ book on Ali vs. Inoki).

Ali agreed to do the match and it was shunned by the mainstream boxing media as a sham and holds a much different legacy in the boxing world than the pro wrestling one.

There was a major U.S. component to the exhibition as Vince McMahon Sr. and Bob Arum promoted the exhibition in the country with McMahon relying on other U.S. promoters to run the promos on their local television and build towards closed-circuit airings that would be accompanied by their own local cards.

The largest was the McMahon Sr. booking Shea Stadium that drew 32,000 people built around the airing of Ali vs. Inoki, but more importantly, seeing Bruno Sammartino gain revenge on Stan Hansen two months after legitimately breaking Sammartino’s neck. It was described by Sammartino in many interviews that McMahon Sr. pleaded for Sammartino to work the show for fear the company would go under if the show bombed without him. It was a miracle that Sammartino worked the show. The undercard also featured a match between Andre the Giant and Chuck Wepner.

The Ali vs. Inoki exhibition aired on closed-circuit all over the country with cards staged in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Florida, San Francisco, and Detroit among them. In a 2016 story in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, it stated they sold about 200,000 tickets on closed-circuit, which was not a fantastic number and paled in comparison to the 400,000 sold for the first WrestleMania nine years later.

The “fight” is the source of much discussion and lore. In the end, the idea of Inoki defeating the heavyweight champion of the world was discarded, and instead, the match went into the ring with a wide range of rules that greatly limited what Inoki could do resulting in a sleep-inducing fifteen round performance. Inoki spent most of the fight on the mat utilizing leg kicks that proved effective and ailed Ali in the aftermath. By modern judging standards, Inoki would have been the clear winner but the result that night was a split draw with scorecards in both directions and referee LeBell scoring it 71-71 after several point deductions.

As a revered figure, Inoki’s legacy has greatly benefited from the exhibition and it’s still a famous fight in Japan after 45 years. For Ali, it was discarded as a sideshow affair with the leg kicks being the enduring theme of the fight with speculation on their impact on Ali’s fighting future. He did return in September that year to beat Ken Norton, which went the distance when championship fights were still contested over fifteen rounds.

Throughout the history of combat sports, there has always been a fascination with pitting fighters and personalities from different backgrounds with the intent of an experiment to see what will happen. It’s the novelty coupled with the rivalry that exists among practitioners of different disciplines and its legion of fans. This is no different than what is finding an audience in 2021 led by the Paul brothers. It ultimately comes down to an equation consisting of curiosity and the requisite star power to fuel that curiosity of the outcome. Today, Jake & Logan Paul possess those traits while the recent example of Lamar Odom and Aaron Carter didn’t register with the public.

It was the basis of the first UFC that didn’t have the largest star power, but the question of which discipline was superior with a promise of violence struck a chord and led to a pay-per-view success among its first set of shows.

Of course, it’s a roll of the dice with combat sports because you find the big star, and then it’s left to their own devices if they succeed or fail. Kimbo Slice was a megastar, but he was a limited fighter and needed to be matched accordingly. It makes it clearer why pro wrestling should have so many more advantages when it comes to developing stars and having the ability to control the outcome. Today’s fan is a sophisticated one and part of the intrigue of MMA and Boxing is the lack of control that can create many special moments that a scripted one fails to achieve as much as it should.

In 2016, Josh Gross wrote a terrific book called Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment, which Gross did a tremendous job researching and reporting. The July 4, 2016, edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter has a tremendous story reflecting on the exhibition after the 40th anniversary.

WRESTLING NEWS

**We have a separate story posted covering today’s WWE cuts including Breezango, Tony Nese, Ariya Daivari, August Grey, and Ever-Rise.

**Friday Night SmackDown airs tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Fox featuring the following segments advertised for the show:
*Money in the Bank Qualifying Match: Apollo Crews vs. Big E.
*Bianca Belair & Cesaro vs. Seth Rollins & Bayley
*Roman Reigns’ victory celebration

**Below are the matches scheduled for 205 Live tonight at 10 p.m. ET on the WWE Network:
*August Grey vs. Grayson Weller
*Ikemen Jiro vs. Ariya Daivari

**Here are the matches for tonight’s edition of NJPW Strong featuring Tom Lawlor defending the Strong Openweight Championship in the main event, streaming at 10 p.m. ET on New Japan World:
*NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: Tom Lawlor (champion) vs. Karl Fredericks
*Rocky Romero vs. Clark Connors
*Fred Yehi & Wheeler YUTA vs. Kevin Knight & The DKC

**With the Montreal Canadiens advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, it’s going to ensure several more weeks of massive numbers for the NHL playoffs in Canada. The schedule is not set due to the ongoing series between the Islanders and Lightning. It is the first time the Canadiens have made it to the final since they won in 1993 and the first Canadian team in the finals since the Vancouver Canucks in 2011. According to Adam Seaborn, Thursday night’s game between Montreal and Las Vegas averaged 3,687,000 viewers on CBC and Sportsnet (which doesn’t include the viewership for the French broadcast in Canada).

**AEW has released a Road to Saturday Night Dynamite special previewing the AEW Championship match between Kenny Omega and Jungle Boy.

**Pro Wrestling NOAH is running two events this weekend, and both will air on FITE TV. Saturday’s show will stream at 6 a.m. ET featuring a Hair vs. Hair Cage Death Match involving Masa Kitamiya and Katsuhiko Nakajima in the main event. Below is the full card:
*Hair vs. Hair Cage Death Match: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Masa Kitamiya
*Number One Contender Rumble Match for GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title Shot: Daisuke Harada vs. Junta Miyawaki vs. Seiki Yoshioka vs. Haoh vs. Nioh vs. Tadasuke vs. Hajime Ohara vs. Ikuto Hidaka vs. Eita
*Naomichi Marufuji & Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Kaito Kiyomiya & Yoshiki Inamura
*Elimination Match: Takashi Sugiura, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kendo Kashin & Kazunari Murakami vs. Muhammed Yone, Shuhei Taniguchi, Akitoshi Saito & Masao Inoue
*Yoshinari Ogawa & HAYATA vs. Kai Fujimura & Yasutaka Yano
*Manabu Soya vs. Kinya Okada

Sunday’s NOAH card also streams at 6 a.m. ET with the following matches listed:
*The Great Muta vs. Kenoh
*Naomichi Marufuji & Masato Tanaka vs. Takashi Sugiura & Kazushi Sakuraba
*GHC Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Atsushi Kotoge vs. Rumble Winner from Saturday

**AJPW presents its Champion’s Night card from Ota Ward City Gymnasium this Sunday where they will crown a new Triple Crown holder after Suwama had to vacate due to his positive COVID-19 test. The Triple Crown will be determined in a round-robin setting involving Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi, and Jake Lee (who was set to challenge Suwama on this card after winning the Champion Carnival). A match involving two of the three will start with the winner advancing to face the third man and the first wrestler to score wins over each opponent will be declared the winner, so it will consist of multiple matches until the two wins are achieved.

**NJPW has announced two title matches for their Summer Struggle cards in Hokkaido on July 10th and July 11th. The first night at Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena will feature El Desperado defending the IWGP junior heavyweight title against Taiji Ishimori, and the second night has Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr. defending the IWGP tag titles against Tetsuya Naito & SANADA with the complete cards to be released later.

**The Kizuna Road tour continues on Saturday at Sendai Sunplaza Hall with a show headlined by Shingo Takagi, Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & BUSHI facing Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe & Ryusuke Taguchi.

**Two of the more intriguing singles matches that New Japan has booked are part of next Friday’s Korakuen Hall event, which airs free on New Japan World. In the opener, Kota Ibushi will face Yota Tsuji followed by a non-title match between Shingo Takagi and Yuya Uemura, which should tear the house down. Last week, Uemura had an incredible match with Hiroshi Tanahashi that I would highly recommend.

**Thursday’s NJPW card at Korakuen Hall featuring Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo defeating Roppongi 3K for the IWGP junior heavyweight tag titles drew 403 fans to Korakuen Hall.

MMA NEWS

**The PFL holds its final regular-season card tonight on ESPN 2 featuring two of the promotion’s biggest stars in Kayla Harrison and Anthony Pettis competing. Tonight’s card features the men’s heavyweight and women’s lightweight divisions as well as the remaining fights in the men’s lightweight and featherweight divisions. There is a maximum of six points available and a guaranteed three points for the winner of each fight (unless you miss weight).

Between all three divisions, only two lightweights have qualified for the playoffs as Clay Collard and Loik Radzhabov each have six points and are guaranteed two of the four playoff spots. Every other spot is still open and does make for an exciting scenario tonight.

Below is the full card and the number of points each fighter has in their respective weight class:

MAIN CARD (10 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
*Women’s Lightweight: Kayla Harrison (6) vs. Cindy Dandois (0)
*Lightweight: Anthony Pettis (0) vs. Raush Manfio (3) – Pettis basically needs a finish and the earlier the better. A win only gives him three points and would be a logjam of fighters tied for the final spot.
*Featherweight: Lance Palmer (0) vs. Movlid Khaybulaev (3) – Palmer is the two-time tournament winner and was upset by Bubba Jenkins this past April. It’s a tough road for Palmer who needs the first-round finish or he won’t qualify for the final playoff spot that Sheymon Moraes currently holds onto with five points. Brendan Loughnane, Chris Wade, and Bubba Jenkins have already clinched.
*Heavyweight: Denis Goltsov (6) vs. Brandon Sayles (5)

PRELIMINARY CARD (6 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
*Heavyweight: Bruno Cappelozza (6) vs. Muhammed DeReese (0)
*Women’s Lightweight: Olena Kolesnyk (-1) vs. Larissa Pacheco (9) – Kolesnyk missed weight by 1.6 pounds
*Heavyweight: Ante Delija (0) vs. Chandler Cole (0)
*Women’s Lightweight: Genah Fabian (3) vs. Julija Pajic (0)
*Heavyweight: Renan Ferreira (1) vs. Carl Seumanutafa (0)
*Women’s Lightweight: Mariana Morais (0) vs. Kaitlin Young (3)
*Heavyweight: Klidson Abreu (0) vs. Jamelle Jones (0)

**Bellator 261 goes head-to-head with PFL with its own card airing on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET although it’s not a deep card. Below is the full card:

MAIN CARD (9 p.m. ET on Showtime)
*Interim Heavyweight Championship: Timothy Johnson (260) vs. Valentin Moldavsky (234)
*Liz Carmouche (125.5) vs. Kana Watanabe (125.25)
*Daniel Weichel (145.5) vs. Keoni Diggs (146)
*Myles Jury (156) vs. Sidney Outlaw (156)
*Christian Edwards (206) vs. Simon Biyong (204.5)

PRELIMINARY CARD (6:30 p.m. ET on Bellator.com)
*Bobby Lee (155.25) vs. Soren Bak (156)
*Isaiah Hokit (155.75) vs. Corey Samuels (156)
*Cody Matthews (135) vs. Jaylon Bates (136)
*Taylor Johnson (185.25) vs. Lance Wright (184.75)
*John de Jesus (145.5) vs. John Teixeira (144.75)

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About John Pollock 5441 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.