Seconds out, round No 1 - it's boxing v MMA
How the tattiest form of two people trying to beat the crap out of each other in the name of pro sport leads back to the classiest boxer who has yet lived
Remember Antonio Inoki? Of course not.
Unless you’re a Muhammad Ali fan, and who isn’t?
Even so, you’re excused if you’re a South African who doesn’t know the answer considering this went down on June 26 1976. Or while the country was going up in flames.
So, who or what was Inoki? Here’s a clue: Tokyo. And another: US$6-million.
“Six million dollars, that’s why,” Ali replied when he was asked why he had agreed to fight Antonio Inoki, a catch wrestling and karate champion, under a specially cooked-up set of rules in Tokyo almost 42 years ago.
The Budokan, the 14,471-seater arena where the fight was staged, and that had served as a venue for the Beatles in 1966 and would in 1979 be where Bob Dylan recorded a live album, was sold out.In New York, Shea stadium, home to baseball’s Mets, had 32,897 spectators watching the action on closed-circuit television.
The fix was in.
The deal, agreed among the suits and the tracksuits, was that Ali would accidentally on purpose KO the referee, who would rise from the canvas just in time to count out the WBA and WBC heavyweight champion — who would by then have been pole-axed by Inoki’s flying kick to the head as he stood, distracted by his concern, over the felled ref.
But Ali got wind of the plan and told everyone where the hell to get off. As it happened, what transpired was scarcely less believable.
Inoki spent most of the 15 rounds on his back trying to snare the legs of Ali, who didn’t throw a punch until the seventh round. He fired only six in total and left the ring bleeding from his knee and thigh — and to thrown rubbish raining into the ring and chants of “Money back! Money back!” — after the bout was declared a draw.But that’s not where the story ended. The sheer spectacle and the possibilities it offered struck a chord with two of Inoki’s students, who established a company called Pancrase — a twist on pankration, a combat sport that was part of the ancient Olympics — in 1993.
That inspired the founding, four years later, of the Pride Fighting Championship, which 10 years after that was bought out by its major competitor, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), or what has become the jewel in the crown of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
That’s right, fight fans, the rattiest, tattiest form of two people trying to beat the crap out of each other in the name of organised, professional sport leads straight back to the classiest boxer who has yet lived.So before we fire up our high dudgeon about these violent, unskilled, tattooed punks and their haircuts calculated to enrage adults everywhere scrambling around the floor of a cage like a couple of drunk cockroaches in an alley and daring to call it something worth paying money to see, let’s consider Ali’s role in making that happen.
And, by extension, boxing’s part in making MMA a modern monstrosity. Because that’s what it is: a disgusting display of human desire at its most base, bulletproof truth that we are not as civilised as we like to think we are, something that shouldn’t be allowed.
You want objective reporting? Go read the share prices.Far from being the next big thing in pugilism, MMA is what happens when a sport goes backwards. Boxing’s regression from something that used to matter on the world stage — when Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling in 1936, even Americans suspended their racial enmity to unite against Hitler’s hitman — to the sad shadow of itself it has become has given MMA the chance to fill the void like some malignant virus.
Boxing attracted writers of the calibre and stature of Norman Mailer, who’s book, The Fight, about Ali and George Foreman’s “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa in 1974, and AJ Liebling, who titled his classic boxing book The Sweet Science and critiqued the fight game for no less august a magazine than the New Yorker.
You can’t stop progress. But MMA doesn’t represent progress. Instead it’s a stop on boxing’s way down from the pinnacle it reached in the 1950s as one of the blue-ribbon sports.Ali versus Inoki is exhibit A in an array of evidence that was added to in August when Floyd Mayweather earned a 10th-round TKO over UFC star Conor McGregor, in a fight that was strictly about boxing.
That Mayweather’s reported earnings were $300-million, three times what McGregor made, tells us the mainstream still considers boxing more acceptable.
Similarly, that the gate takings amounted to almost US$17-million less than Mayweather’s fight with Manny Pacquiao in May 2015 will hearten boxing purists, as will the fact that the venture sold 300,000 fewer pay-per-views than Mayweather-Pacquiao.But before we celebrate those truths let’s remember that Mayweather, the greatest boxer of the age, is a piece of unlikeable scum who has been jailed for beating up his girlfriend and who has won 50 professional fights largely by not getting hit.
Mayweather inherited the mantle of boxing’s leading brand ambassador from Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist whose idea of sushi involves human ear lobe.
So maybe we should give MMA’s violent, unskilled, tattooed punks and their haircuts calculated to enrage adults a chance, not least to prove they’re better at being people.
McGregor has already done so. He wore the Golden State Warriors jersey of basketball player CJ Watson before his showdown with Mayweather.
And Watson’s relationship with Josie Harris — Mayweather’s former partner and the mother of three of his four children — was why she was assaulted by the boxer.
There’s a real man in that mess, and his name isn’t Mayweather.