Ali vs. Inoki: The Forgotten Fight That Inspired Mixed Martial Arts and Launched Sports Entertainment by Josh Gross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In 1976, Japanese professional wrestler and all-round bad ass Antonio Inoki battled the Greatest of All Time, boxer Muhammed Ali in a wrestler vs. boxer match. This book explores the lead-up to the match and the seedy underbellies of both the boxing and wrestling businesses.
I first learned of this fight while sifting through my dad's box of old wrestling magazines, probably looking for smut ads. When this book popped up on Netgalley, I figured I'd give it a shot.
The book covers the early days of the setup for Ali vs. Inoki, then backtracks to the days of yore, when Farmer Burns took on boxers, the failed Strangler Lewis vs. Jack Dempsey wrestler vs. boxer match, and "Judo" Gene LeBelle taking out a boxer whose name escapes me at the moment.
There's actually more wrestling history in this than I expected. It covers the early days of both American and Japanese pro-wrestling, from Strangler Lewis to Rikidozan. One interesting tidbit was a chance meeting between young Cassius Clay and wrestling superstar Gorgeous George that went a long way toward turning an Olympic boxer into The Greatest of All Time.
A lot of time was devoted to the setup of Ali vs. Inoki. Once the fight happened, Josh Gross showed his writing chops and made a fight that was boring to watch by most accounts into an exciting, dramatic affair. From there, the rise of mixed martial arts is covered and the rest of Ali and Inoki's careers are summarized until they both retire.
Ali vs. Inoki was an interesting book. As a wrestling fan, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5. Someone into MMA would probably rate it higher.
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