In the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment in the Rocky series and the sequel to the 1990 film Rocky V, ESPN broadcast a computer-simulated fight between Rocky Balboa and Mason “The Line” Dixon.
It was a former world ruler against the current, who was reigning as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world.
The simulated fight, in which Balboa defeats Dixon in a KO victory, grabs the world’s attention. It ultimately inspired Rocky to come out of retirement and fight Dixon for real.
Many don’t know, especially younger viewers, that this simulated bout is a modern-day version of what is referred to as The Super Fight.
It was a 1970 fictional boxing match between boxing greats Marciano and Ali.
Rocky Marciano vs Muhammad Ali
It was a conversation on the tip of every boxing fan’s tongue. Firstly, Who is the greatest of all time?
What would happen if John L. Sullivan fought Lenox Lewis? – If Floyd Mayweather fought Mike Tyson? – If Rocky Marciano fought Muhammad Ali?
In the late 1960s, one man gave the people what they wanted. These conversations happening in bars up and down America were the impetus behind creating The Super Fight.
As well as the computerized sports industry as we know it today.
In 1967, radio producer Murray Woroner sent out a survey to 250 boxing experts and writers. This aided in determining which boxers would be used in a series of fantasy fights.
They would be staged as radio plays with Woroner and famous radio announcer Guy LeBow acting as the commentators.
After a series of knockout rounds, Rocky Marciano eventually defeated Jack Dempsey in the final. He was awarded an AI championship belt but in real life. It was said to be worth $10,000.
However, a second-round fight between Muhammad Ali and Jim Jefferies caused the most controversy.
Ali vs Jefferies
Muhammad Ali, being Muhammad Ali, was certainly not happy with the prediction of a loss to Jim Jefferies in the second round of the fantasy series.
He filed a one-million-dollar lawsuit against Woroner for defamation of character. The case was eventually forgotten when Woroner agreed to pay Ali $10,000.
Perhaps Woroner’s best move in this settlement was getting Ali to agree to participate in a filmed version of the fantasy fight against the series winner Rocky Marciano.
At this point, Marciano was 45 years old. He had been retired for ten years. But he, too, was interested and agreed to take part.
He is rumored to have lost upwards of 50 pounds for the event. Marciano also wore a toupee to look like he did in his prime.
Every boxing commission suspended Muhammad Ali at the time. This is after refusing to be inducted into the US Army on moral grounds.
He was 27 years old. Ali should have been at the height of his fighting and earning powers. So the allure of a paycheck was too much to turn down.
Every aspect of the fighters was considered, from hitting power to the ability to take a punch, defensive ability, susceptibility to cuts, and ring control.
In addition, how each fighter reacted in various scenarios. A blow-by-blow account was formed of what would happen if the two fighters were actually to enter the ring.
Programmers converted this detailed information into an algorithm. It could be run through a computer and determine what would happen in hundreds of different variables.
Behind Closed Doors
And behind closed doors, the two fighters entered a warehouse in northern Miami. They sparred 72 one-minute rounds over a few days.
All of this footage was eventually edited down into a full fight. It would be screened across the United States of America, with many placing bets on the outcome in Las Vegas.
The event sold out in cinemas nationwide, with Marciano coming out as the eventual winner with a 13th-round knockout.
Since then, various alternative endings have appeared online. In one, Ali wins by TKO with a bloody-faced Marciano due to tomato ketchup, deemed unfit to continue in the 12th round.
The aftermath of the fight is multi-faceted. Despite being a financial success, Ali described the fight as “a sham” and a “Hollywood fake” on The Dick Cavett Show.
Also, raising questions about the result and how much input the computer had on the result.
In another way, The Super Fight inspired the entire world. Furthermore, it is the grandfather of every simulated sporting match-up that has succeeded it.
Whatever your opinion, The Super Fight took the world by storm, with no sign of technological advancement slowing.
It raises the question of what may be possible now that AI is at the forefront.