Thursday, 17 January 2013

When Ali met The Pelican

Well, many happy returns from me to Muhammad Ali.  There are many ways to remember the birthday boy: cocky, young rapping poet; outspoken political and cultural icon; or perhaps the greatest heavy weight champion of all time, however skipping around the ring while trying to avoid the kicks of a Japanese wrestler probably isn’t one of them.

Yet that’s where Ali found himself two years after he wrestled with an alligator and handcuffed lightning and just eight months after he outfought the late Joe Frazier in the Thrilla in Manilla.

The unlikely match up between Ali and Japanese pro-wrestler Antoni Inoki came about after Ali met the president of the Japanese Amateur Wrestling Association, Ichiro Yada, at a reception in New York in 1975 and flippantly asked if there was “no Oriental fighter who will challenge me?” before saying that if there was and they could beat him, he’d give the them $1m.

When Yada returned to Japan, Ali’s remark made headlines in the Sankei Sports Newspaper and Inoki doggedly started pursuing the heavyweight champ to take up his challenge.

At the time Inoki was Japan’s top wrestling star and is now seen as a pioneer of mixed martial arts having taken on opponents from all the major disciplines such as, Akram Pahalwan, whose career he ended with an arm break; Olympic Judo gold medalist Willem Ruska and Kyokushin Kaikan karate practitioner Willie Williams.