By Phil Cooper
While the UFC frequently pitted boxers against wrestlers in the early editions of its flagship events, MMA fighters aspiring to reach the highest echelon of their sport now acknowledge the importance of groundwork. As such, every UFC fighter can now be considered a wrestler of sorts, leaving the WWE as the only stage upon which a true ‘boxer v wrestler’ clash can receive a significant PPV draw.
A relatively high percentage of these fights end in a disqualification or no-contest, and McGregor Vs Mayweather is certainly at risk of such an outcome, given the temperament of the two fighters. As such, it is no coincidence that the latest boxing odds for that bout include a price for the fight to end via disqualification – or another unconventional conclusion. ‘Unconventional’ would be a good way to describe how Mayweather’s bout with the Big Show in 2008 ended, with the Big Show sustaining a broken nose after Mayweather used brass knuckles in their Wrestlemania 24 bout.
While some of these unique boxing Vs wrestling events have enthralled and entertained, others have been ridiculed, having made history for all the wrong reasons. The night of June 26, 1976 stands prominent as a watershed event, but the much-hyped bout between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki fell into the latter category. With ‘The Greatest’ by now on a tragic wane, Ali came into this exhibition bout on the back of a TKO win over Richard Dunn in Munich – his seventh defense of his status as undisputed heavyweight champion. It also came within a year of the limit-pushing affair that was ‘Thrilla in Manila’, in which even the corner men were suffering from exhaustion.
This time it would be only the audience suffering from exhaustion, by dint of sheer boredom. In a development that foreshadowed the worst UFC bouts imaginable, Inoki spent almost the entirety of the fight in a recessive position on his back, kicking out at an Ali who was unable to get anywhere near him with his fists.
Inoki’s attempt to pull off Liu Kang’s signature move was unsuccessful...
Though Ali Vs Inoki was a damp squib, the fight that preceded it was a far greater spectacle. Andre the Giant faced Chuck Wepner, who was famously the inspiration of the Rocky film franchise. As journeyman, Chuck Wepner had previously defied the odds in a match with Ali, taking him ‘the distance’ and gaining fame in the process. Billed as a man who could defy the odds, Wepner was considered a perfect fit to take on Andre the Giant, who was in the midst of a remarkable unbeaten run in the WWE (then the World Wide Wrestling Federation).
The match (or mis-match) itself lasted just three rounds, with Andre eventually throwing Wepner over the top rope. Whether he screamed “catch me!”, as Rocky did in the third installment of the series when thrown over the ropes by Thunderlips, is disputed. There can be no doubt, however, that he was at least inwardly screaming those words as he hurtled headlong towards a baying crowd. It is now four decades on, and while the landscape of combat sports has changed, the global audience's craving for entertainment has never waned. Should Conor McGregor’s historic bout with Floyd Mayweather prove to be a commercial success, the frequency of sanctioned cross-code bouts on pay-per-view television will surely increase - for better or worse.