I wrote a while back that if you visit the Muhammed Ali Center in Louisville, there’s one fight from the Champ’s career that is very conspicuous by its absence. It’s the legendary – some would say infamous – boxer vs. wrestler match that took place in 1976 against Japan’s Antonio Inoki. While many people look on that match (if they glance at it at all) as a disaster and a public failure, the battle between Ali and Inoki in many ways opened the door not only for the rise of sports entertainment and the WWE, but mixed martial arts. At least that’s the contention of MMA writer Josh Gross, who has shed a bright light on the forgotten Ali match in his book, Ali Vs. Inoki.
Gross has put together a phenomenal look at one of the most bizarre chapters in boxing and wrestling history. The 320 page work is an exhaustive look at the events leading up to the fight, the participants on both sides, the fight itself, and the aftermath. Gross covers the fight from all sides, giving his reader a perspective from all sides on the fight including Ali and his handlers; Ali’s corner man, the great Freddie Blassie; referee and deciding judge “Judo” Gene LeBell; and the enigmatic Inoki and his seconds, including the legendary shooter Karl Gotch, whom Gross maintains could hardly contain himself from entering the ring and twisting both men, Ali and Inoki, in knots. Gross also tells some amusing stories about the WWWF side of the story, including a tale told by Vince McMahon, Jr., about taking Ali down in his hotel room. The reader is left to decide for him or herself if they believe McMahan’s version of events. (I for one, am not buying!)
Gross is an MMA guy, and his bent leans toward the world of mixed martial arts all the way. Nevertheless, he gives a fair and balanced look at the world of professional wrestling as well as boxing. Ali Vs. Inoki is a must read for any fight sports fan and a must have for wrestling book collectors. It’s a brilliant look at the fight some want to forget but no one ever will, a turning point in the career of Muhammed Ali (who never was the same after the bruising his legs took during the bout), and a groundbreaking matchup that inspired a new wave of fight sports that continues to thrive to this day.