Thursday, March 26, 2009


The mid-seventies. Mohammed Ali fought a wrestler in Japan. I'd heard on the radio at the time that the wrestler had trained by having somebody jump on his head. Hmm. So after I'd repeated this fascinating story (I'm full of such riveting snippets) a few times (no more I'm sure than twelve or fifteen times (per individual) to anyone, everyone, who didn't look completely uninterested or simply leave while I was speaking) I decided I needed to actually inform myself of the details.

June 25, 1976.

Ali and Antonio Inoki, a big deal in Japanese wrestling (a few years later he appeared in the stellar Bad News Bears Go to Japan, grunting and grimacing in typical Japanese fashion (what? -- you know it's true! (now don't go giving me that look (oh great, now I have attitude to deal with))) about his desire for a rematch). The "fight" itself consisted of Ali skipping around a seated Inoki, who menaced the champ by scooting along on his buttocks, waving his legs before him somewhat like a hyperthyroidal and malformed snail.

The rules forbade Inoki from lifting Ali, or shooting on him, or taking him down in any fashion, or kicking him above the waist. Stern looks were not proscribed. As for Ali, no rules. Except that he could break any hold by, ahem, touching any rope. Touching. Any. Rope. Inoki kicked Ali's thighs so many times with the side of his boot -- technically that would be slapping -- that the announcer gasped, "Gracious! His legs are hemorrhaging!" Indeed, Ali's manager stopped the fight momentarily so that Inoki's shoelaces could be taped to his boots. It seems the vicious plastic tines at the laces' ends were unduly tormenting the champ. They might very well have left a mark, if left unsecured!

But let's not suppose the champ didn't put on a good show. He threw a punch in the 7th round. And then again an entirely different punch in the 10th. And then, to the wild cheers (I must imagine) of the roiling crowd, he threw yet another punched once more again in the 13th ... nay, not just once but twice, yes two times. They "fought" fifteen rounds, to a "draw." Or was it "waiting out the clock"? I get things confused -- fighting, dancing, standing in line: who can tell the difference?

On the same bill were Andre the Giant and Chuck Wepner, the "Bayonne Bleeder" slash "Brawler". "Bleeder," after his propensity to start gushing blood when on the receiving end of a piercing stare. Andre was advised ringside by fellow wrestler Gorilla Monsoon, whom Ali had visited (?) in the ring a month before:

A lark? Publicity? Cynical whoring? Who can say. It's an imponderable. It's beyond all human capacity to comprehend. It will stand eternal and pre-eminent among the Great Mysteries of the Ages: the Pyramids, the Resurrection of our Lord, and this fight. As for Wepner, he'd gone 15 rounds with Ali in '75, a match Sylvester Stallone saw on TV and which inspired him to write Rocky. Small world, somehow.

Gene LeBelle refereed the men -- sleek wrestler, fleet yet feckless defender. (Oh look! That sentence only used e's!) He earned $50,000 dollars for the gig. LeBelle is a man who could have beaten Inoki and Ali at the same time. He's the guy who gave Bruce Lee noogies. He is said to have humbled Steven Segal, expending as much effort as you or I might use yawning. "Nobody can make me tap," exclaimed the famous big-time Hollywood movie phenom badass toughguy. "I can," responded the wily LeBelle. "No you can't." "Yes I can." "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes, I'd sneak up on you." "No you wouldn't." "Yes I would." "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No, nobody can sneak up on me!" "I can." "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No." LeBelle snuck up on him, and choked him out. But, true, Segal did not tap out. He passed out. Reports are conflicting as to whether Segal urinated, or defecated, in his underpants. Perhaps both -- we need not find a contradiction here: let it stand as a lesson in the complex nature of testimony as evidence. What seems not to be contested is that Mr. Segal then fired LeBelle, who was employed as a stunt man.

Ali? Well, no, in the twilight of his career Ali wasn't comporting himself in a manner consistent with the highest qualities of dignity. In late '81 he fought a three-toed sloth in the Bahamas, and lost; his last fight. The Thrilla in Manila finished him. After that, the butterfly turned into a caterpillar.

Ali made six million dollars from the Japanese "fight". Inoki made four million.

Why am I saying this? Well, it's something that I know, because I informed myself via the internet of the true facts. Isn't that enough?


1 comment:

Jack H said...