There are two notable Ali matches not featured in my book. They are not on his official fight record. Therefore, they weren’t included. But both garnered much attention and notoriety for not only who was involved, but the never been done before curiosity appeal. The first took place after Ali re-captured the heavyweight crown in his fight with George Foreman. A month after he’d defeated Richard Dunn and three months prior to his third clash with Ken Norton, Ali got into the ring with Antonio Inoki in Tokyo on June 26, 1976. It was considered by many the first high profile mixed martial arts match. It was seen as a precursor to modern MMA. Japan’s Inoki, a catch wrestling champion, had gained notoriety by challenging and defeating practitioners of various fighting forms. He was on record stating he believed he could defeat anyone from any other fighting art. When Ali heard this he quickly responded there was no way Inoki could beat him. They soon agreed to meet in the ring, but things got complicated thereafter. The complications started with what rules would govern the contest and how they would be carried out. Initially, a scripted pro wrestling styled contest was proposed. During the bout Ali would miss Inoki with a punch and instead knockout the referee. Then, while helping the referee, Ali would be pinned from behind by Inoki. The referee would come to and count out Ali giving local hero Inoki the victory. Ali refused to go along with the staged loss scenario. So instead, a legit anything goes fight was then proposed. But after Ali’s people witnessed Inoki’s grappling, kicking, and sweeping techniques during his training, restrictive rules were put in place. Referee Gene LeBell would swear years later that no special rules restricting the action were put in place. It was alleged from Inoki’s camp years later that the Black Muslims had threatened Inoki’s life if he laid a hand on Ali. Whatever happened or didn’t happen before the bout, the “fight” was a dull, boring event with little in the way of meaningful action taking place. Inoki spent the majority of the match dropping to the floor, lying on his back, and kicking up at Ali’s legs. This meant Ali was provided with little opportunity to throw, much less land, punches period. Ali’s legs took a battering from the prone thrown kicks. This would affect his mobility throughout the remainder of his boxing career. The bout was declared a draw. The disappointed Nippon Budokan arena crowd showed their displeasure in the disappointing bout by not only booing but pelting the ring area with food and garbage. While there was animosity and finger pointing from both sides in the aftermath, eventually the two combatants became friends. Ali even attended Inoki’s final wrestling match in Japan.
The other notable bout not on Ali’s official record took place after Ali’s capturing of the heavyweight title for the record third time in his re-match with Leon Spinks and before he officially announced his retirement from boxing. It was most notable for the intrigue provided by the opponent’s background and achievements outside the ring than for the actual action it produced. Lyle Alzado was, at 6’4″ and around 285 lbs., an incredible physical specimen. The Denver Bronco defensive lineman was a ferocious and intense competitor on the gridiron. Alzado grew up in Brooklyn, NY where in his youth he had boxed in the Golden Gloves. As part of his off-season conditioning, Alzado trained at a Denver boxing gym in the Globeville area. Curious reporters and t.v. crews covered some of his training sessions. As a leverage ploy in his current football contract negotiations, Alzado speculated on how he might possibly leave football for a run at the heavyweight title. When queried by reporters about his seriousness, Alzado speculated he could see himself in the ring holding his own with champ Ali. When word on this got back to Ali, the challenge was accepted, and an eight round exhibition match was set up for July 14, 1979 on the football field at Denver’s Mile High Stadium. Exhibition matches were popular in the early 20th Century, particularly in states where pro boxing was prohibited by law. Most were done for charity and with no winner being declared. Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey were notable among pro fighters who participated in a number of exhibitions. Ali was overweight and out of shape from not having trained since the Spinks re-match. However, even at 234 lbs, the 37 yr old champ was at a reported 50 lb disadvantage to the massive Alzado. Alzado came in having trained hard and was taking the opportunity seriously. While Ali, on the other hand, was there to put on a show and play to the crowd. About 20,000 were in attendance and NBC televised the bout. Alzado charged out aggressively firing power shots. Ali just moved around and merely pawed with his punches. It was obvious to everyone, but Alzado, Ali was merely playing with his opponent who he could have easily hit at will. One of Alzado’s teammates in attendance later told of how around the third round, after Alzado landed a couple of hay-makers, Ali quickly brought him back to reality by landing a hard, fast, three punch combination. After that, Alzado settled down and got with the program. Twice during clinches, Alzado picked Ali up and spun him completely around. The exhibition went the full eight rounds and the mostly football crowd got their money’s worth. Afterwards, Alzado returned to the gridiron, and Ali officially retired as the three time heavyweight champion.