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Muhammad Ali’s Strangest Fight

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By Matt Edwards

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was known for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. But had his reputation been set by the Botch Job at the Budokan (as we’re dubbing it) rather than the Rumble in the Jungle or the Thrilla in Manila, you’d be more likely to describe him as stinging like a sponge while flapping like an irate puffin.

In 1976, nearing the end of his career, Ali signed up to fight Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki. Inoki was a huge figure in Japanese culture and was renowned for suplexes and jumping kicks. The match took place in Tokyo at the Budokan arena on June 26, 1976, and despite being billed as anything goes, it featured a bizarre set of rules more in line with a pro wrestling match.

The legitimacy of the match was, fairly, questioned. Was this a real fight or a choreographed wrestling match?

Well, apparently even the combatants weren’t sure. There were conflicting stories. Some suggest that the fight was to be choreographed, but that Ali hadn’t been informed that he was going to lose and that when he found out that bit of information, he refused to take a fall. Another version of the story has it that Ali and his team hadn’t realized it would be a real fight and backed out upon seeing Inoki in training.

Regardless, the fight would go ahead. The match was set to broadcast in various countries and there were huge amounts of money invested. Ali was said to be earning $6 million for the bout. Thus, it went ahead as a fight, but with a new set of rules more in line with mixed martial arts, such as one which prevented Inoki from throwing Ali or kicking him, unless Inoki had one knee in contact with the canvas.

Have you ever tried kicking someone with one knee on the ground? It’s incredibly difficult, and Inoki spent 15 rounds throwing Ali off of his game by doing just that. Inoki started the fight by attempting a sliding kick on Ali’s legs, and then spent much of the fight kicking at Ali's legs while scooting around the canvas on his back. Ali was unsure of how to mount any offense under these circumstances, and so he didn’t (though ever the entertainer, Ali did continue to taunt his opponent throughout the rounds). Over the course of the match, Ali threw six punches. The fight briefly came to life in the sixth round when Inoki was able to pull Ali down and sit on him, but the referee soon split them apart.

The match was ruled a draw.

The crowd booed. Ali sustained some serious damage to his legs, with two blood clots forming as a result of this match. Inoki’s legend grew in Japan, though his fans blamed Ali’s team for the poor fight, citing the strange rules imposed on Inoki.

Of course, almost every detail surrounding the fight is questionable, given the association with pro wrestling, where maintaining the illusion of the show is of the utmost importance. Not up for debate: that no one would have faked such an odd and boring fight in the name of entertainment.

[h/t The Guardian]

This post originally appeared on our UK site.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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History
Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture
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iStock

From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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