The great Muhammad Ali once fought Antonio Inoki, a legendary professional wrestler who crawled like a crab around the ring and kicked at his legs. That fight on June 24, 1976, drew an estimated worldwide audience of 1 billion viewers.
To build the fight, Ali appeared on professional wrestling house shows, where once he was grabbed by 400-plus-pound wrestler Gorilla Monsoon and put into an airplane spin. He appeared on “The Tonight Show” with the notorious heel pro wrestling manager, “Classy” Freddie Blassie.
After a “match” with WWWF wrestler Buddy Wolfe, Ali was interviewed in the ring by Vince McMahon. McMahon started the interview with Ali by saying, “You may be the king of the ring; then again, you may not.”
At that point, pro wrestling still followed kayfabe and acted as if it were real. Ali fell completely into the role. After bloodying Wolfe in their brief encounter, Ali said to McMahon, “He got a little cocky. He grabbed my head and twisted my neck a little. He started bleeding like a hog, and that’s just what I’m going to do. I’m not just a boxer; I’m going to whip all the rasslers in the world, starting with the world champion, Antonio Inoki, in Japan.”
Ali started to talk about pulling dirty moves on his opponents when he turned to Blassie. Blassie never missed a beat, saying, “I’m the man who wrote the book on illegal tactics, how to get in and how to get out.”
In 1975, George Foreman once boxed five men in the same night.
There’s more, but you get the point. No matter how low you might go, in boxing, you can be sure that someone has already tried it before.
And that brings us to the boxing match between Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion and pound-for-pound great, and former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. They’ll meet on Oct. 28 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in another of the boxer versus MMA fighter matches being staged.
It’s being done for money, and at a news conference Thursday in London, both men noted the significant payday they’re going to earn. They’re going to try to use their notoriety in their own sports to cash in on their big names.
There should be no problem with that. Fighting is a dangerous profession and if an athlete is able to cash out, it’s awesome.
But the shtick of the boxer versus MMA fighter is getting old; we know how this sport will go. Floyd Mayweather proved it when he outboxed Conor McGregor on Aug. 26, 2017, in Las Vegas. Heck, Jake Paul, of all people, proved it when he defeated MMA fighters Nate Diaz, Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren.
They’re going to try it again, though, and the hype was in overdrive Thursday.
When Queensberry Promotions’ Dev Sahni brought Ngannou to the stage, he referred to him as “arguably the most powerful athlete in the history of combat sports.” While Ngannou indeed is a vicious, even frightening puncher, referring to him as the most powerful in combat sports history is more than a little over the top.
So, too, was Fury’s comment that he would knock Ngannou out in an MMA fight. Book it: Ngannou would beat Fury quicker in an MMA bout than Fury could beat Ngannou in a boxing match.
Fury, though, hit on the reason the fight is happening when he not only talked about the money, but what the exposure would do for him opening him to a new audience of MMA fans who aren’t all as familiar with him as boxing fans are.
“I’m going to go in there and enjoy it, because I’m in the twilight zone of my career,” Fury said. “I turned 35 last week. I want to enjoy it and enjoy the last bit of career I’ve got left. You never know when it’s going to be all over. God forbid I go in there and get in a tussle with Ngannou [and suffer] an ACL or shoulder or cut eye, whatever. You never know what’s around the corner, so you have to take advantage of it and enjoy every minute. That’s what I’m doing. I’m a natural born entertainer.
“These guys ain’t got s*** on me, these boxers. They’re like men in suits, like office workers and stuff. [They’re] stiff, boring and everyone is sick of it. It’s a show, and I’m the only show in town.”
It’s a good point.
Still, it’s disappointing to many that Fury took this bout, which he’ll likely win clearly, as opposed to fighting Oleksandr Usyk for supremacy in boxing’s heavyweight division.
But from Fury’s point of view, he knows he should win going away and can pursue Usyk after Ngannou.
For Ngannou, it’s a roll of the dice. He’s being built up in front of an audience that doesn’t really know him. He’s being billed as one of the greatest punchers ever, even though he has never boxed and, more significantly, wears four-ounce gloves in MMA compared to the 10-ounce gloves he’ll wear when he boxes Fury.
It was almost sacrilege for Sahni to refer to Ngannou as “arguably,” the greatest puncher ever. Yeah, you could make the argument that Indians’ third baseman Jose Ramirez is the greatest puncher ever (j ust ask the White Sox’ Tim Anderson), but that’s a losing argument. Sahni failed to even mention the likes of Deontay Wilder and Mike Tyson and Foreman and Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey and Earnie Shavers and so many others.
It’s all, of course, in the interest of building the event and selling.
The event will sell better the more than fighters hype it and the more they convince the public Ngannou can win. That’s yet to happen in any of these boxer versus MMA battles.
Here’s hoping Ngannou comes out of the fight healthy and able to step into the Professional Fighters League invigorated and ready to do his thing in MMA.
Here’s hoping we’ll learn our lesson after this and keep the boxers competing against boxers and the MMA fighters fighting each other.
Sadly, though, there’s a sucker born every minute.