Those are the words chanted by Ali's cheerleaders upon his arrival in Tokyo, Japan. Ali had flown across the world to square off against Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki in a prototypical mixed martial arts contest mired today in half-truths and conspiracy. By many accounts, the fight ruined Ali's boxing career.
In 1976, Muhammad Ali was 33 years old, coming off a year of uninspired victories and contemplating retirement. Looking to give his career and, more likely, his pocket book a shot in the arm, Ali agreed to the freestyle fight with Inoki, to the tune of six million dollars.
To hear Ali's camp tell it, the Japanese fight promoter paid that hefty price in hopes that Ali would take a dive. Inoki, meanwhile, asserts that it was the Americans who suggested a scripted fight, but only after getting a peek at Inoki's ferocious techniques. Whatever the case, confusion abounded, and a last-minute rule change was implemented to ensure Ali's participation. While Ali could box all he liked, Inoki was no longer allowed hand strikes, tackles, or throws. Furthermore, Inoki could only kick if one of his knees were in contact with the mat. What followed was not pretty.
At the opening bell Inoki dashed forward and lunged at Ali, feet first. He proceeded to scoot around on his ass, kicking upwards at the boxer's knees. In the seventh Inoki trapped one of Ali's legs, tripped him to the canvas and, as sure as butterflies do float, Inoki sat on the champ's face. The indignity prompted Ali to throw his first punch in the next round, to little effect. For the entirety of the fight's 15 rounds, Inoki stayed glued to the mat, the only position from which he could legally strike at Ali, battering the American's legs. By the end, Ali had thrown only six punches.
From the private viewing rooms of Las Vegas to New York City's Shea Stadium, audiences, expecting a fight in earnest, received the broadcast in disbelief. The Tokyo crowd showered the cage with garbage as the fight came to a close. And though the contest was ruled a draw, Ali really came away the worse for wear. Inoki's kicks had left Ali's legs cut to the point of infection, with a nasty pair of blood clots for good measure. Boxing promoter Bob Arum considered that Ali might become crippled for life, and Ali's doctor, Ferdie Pacheco, was certain that Ali's speed and footwork were irreparably damaged. Pacheco resigned from his post soon after. Ali would never knock out another opponent.
Antonio Inoki would go on to prosper. His business savvy and flair for self-promotion would see the Japanese superstar found several pro-wrestling organizations and become an endorsement-giant, with not only a brand of vitamin water to his name, but a line of condoms as well. "Condoms that have inherited Inoki-ism!" the package reads. "Use without question!" And though many of his fights are now acknowledged as worked or staged, Inoki is nevertheless seen as one of the first heralds of Japanese MMA, and his meeting with Ali gave the world a glimpse at the drama and excitement that the fledgling sport of mixed martial arts would yield up in the following decades.
Meanwhile, in the schoolyards of Japan today, while you can witness young boys performing such classics as the "Indian burn" and the "noogie," there is another, special move. On bended knee, a rowdy student drives his free foot into the shin of a classmate. This is the "Ari Kikku." Ali Kick.
The Black Lodge, USA