Muhammad Ali almost had legs amputated after competing in a boxing-MMA crossover fight
Muhammad Ali fought Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki in what was essentially the world's first ever mixed martial arts (MMA) match - though he nearly had his legs amputated as a result
Muhammad Ali nearly had to have his legs amputated in 1976 following a brutal crossover bout with Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki.
Initially dubbed the ‘Fight of the Century’, the match was designed to bring about a clash of worlds, though it quickly turned into a bizarre, and dangerous, mess.
Inoki, who was Japan’s version of Hulk Hogan at the time, was keen to prove to everyone that wrestling was the superior combat sport and challenged the world’s greatest boxer to a showdown.
It took place less than a year after the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’ – a fight which Ali admitted nearly killed him – but little did he know he was about to step into the ring with a man who made Joe Frazier look like a pussycat.
Ali assumed the match would be ‘fake’ like pro wrestling but found out Inoki’s intentions to hurt and humiliate him just a few days before the fight.
In response, Ali’s team banned Inoki from throwing kicks and strikes while he was standing up and threatened to walk away from the fight if he didn’t agree – a move that ultimately turned the encounter into a farce.
Inoki spent almost the entirety of the match on his back, scooting around the ring trying to kick Ali’s legs from a grounded position while inviting the American to come and grapple him.
What this did was strip Ali of his ability to box, and with both men disarmed, the crowd quickly turned on the match and began to boo.
Inoki made it to his feet on a couple of occasions, but Ali only managed to land five punches during the entire fight
What Ali didn’t know was that Inoki was wearing hard-leather shoes with brass rivets on the end, and was trying to hack the boxer into submission. His legs quickly began to swell and with every passing round Inoki’s attacks became more vicious.
The fight morphed into mental trench warfare and when the bell finally sounded at the end of 15 ridiculous rounds, both men were exhausted.
Inoki collapsed backstage after breaking his foot during the onslaught, but Ali was in far more serious danger.
He had developed two blood clots in his leg as a result of the hour-long battering and after they both became infected, doctors warned him he may have to have his leg amputated – though he thankfully recovered after spending weeks in hospital
Bizarrely enough, Ali and Inoki became good friends after their mad fight, and Inoki even adopted some of Ali’s catchphrases to use for his wrestling gimmick.
“In the ring we were tough opponents. After that we built love and friendship with mutual respect,” Ali said in 2009.
While the encounter itself had been a total bust, Ali and Inoki had made history.
They’d essentially had the world’s first mixed martial arts match, and proved to the masses – as well as to each other – that neither boxing, nor pro wrestling, was for the faint of heart … or legs.