Muhammad Ali’s legacy includes three stints as world heavyweight champion, social activism in favor of civil rights for African-Americans and against the Vietnam War, and humanitarian efforts on behalf of people all over the world.
Ali’s legacy also includes wrestling.
The bragging and insults that Ali used to promote his fights was influenced by Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie. Don’t believe the Greek God of Wrestling? Then believe Ali. He said so. And much like those wrestling villains, Ali didn’t care if you rooted against him. All that mattered was that you bought a ticket.
Blassie, hated and feared in Japan, was in Ali’s corner for his infamous match with Antonio Inoki. Achilles Heel will get to the Inoki match, the subject of a new book, in a minute, but if you want to be entertained, I grant you permission to interrupt your reading of Heel Turns to watch this video of Ali and Blassie on the Tonight Show.
Talk shows weren’t the only place Ali promoted high 1976 match with Inoki. He also prepared in the ring. In order to prepare for – and promote – his bout with Inoki, Ali had several matches with wrestlers. He fought a three-round exhibition with Buddy Wolfe of the AWA, with Blassie in his corner, Dick the Bruiser in Wolfe’s corner Verne Gagne as special guest referee. Highlights from that match were shown on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Blassie, Gagne and Dick the Cruiser were also present for Ali’s match with Kenny Jay (Ali won by knockout).
The most famous in-ring promotional moment involved Ali getting in the ring with Gorilla Monsoon in Philadelphia after Monsoon knocked Baron Mikel Scicluna out of the ring. The gargantuan Monsoon picks the heavyweight champion up in an airplane spin. The Greek God of Wrestling suggests you take a few moments to watch this unforgettable moment in WWE (then WWWF) history.
The Ali-Inoki match was important for several reasons. Some view the match as the beginning of mixed martial arts competition. At the very least, it raised the profile of these contests. The fight took place in Tokyo, but was watched on closed circuit locations all over the United States, including in New York’s Shea Stadium, where the WWWF drew more than 30,000 people to an event that also included Andre the Giants vs. Chuck Wepner in another wrestler vs. boxer match.
The match itself was a disaster – in more ways than one. There are many stories about the Ali-Inoki bout. Most agree that the match was supposed to be a work, but Ali refused to do the “job” – even though the finish would be set up so Ali didn’t look bad.
Once the fight became a shoot, Ali’s camp put restrictive rules in place, limiting what Inoki could do. One story says that some of Ali’s inner circle went to watch Inoki train. After watching him tossing opponents around, they decided to change the rules to protect Ali.
With much of his repertoire outlawed, Inoki, instead of standing in front of Ali, where he could be punched, elected to attack from a prone position. Inoki basically crabwalked around the ring, kicking at Ali’s legs.
Inoki’s strategy made for an awful fight – officially, it was a draw (after Inoki was penalized three points) – but he did serious damage to Ali’s legs. Ali had to be hospitalized with blood clots. There have been reports that there was fear Ali would have to have a leg amputated.
Many believe Ali was never the same after the Inoki bout. Others, of course, trace Ali’s decline to the brutal “Thrilla in Manila” with Joe Frazier the previous year.
Ali’s involvement with wrestling didn’t end after his boxing career was finished. He was the special referee outside the ring for the main event of the first WrestleMania, pitting Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff.
Ali was better known for his boxing exploits and controversial public positions. But he also was an integral part of a famous moment in wrestling history.
LESNAR RETURNS TO UFC: Speaking of mixed martial arts, Brock Lesnar is making a return to UFC on July 9 against Mark Hunt. The bout at UFC 200 in Las Vegas will be Lesnar’s first MMA fight in nearly five years.
The Greek God of Wrestling is wary of what this fight could mean for Lesnar. If he wins, it would enhance his reputation as “The Beast.” But 38 is fairly old for an MMA fighter. And Hunt is far from a pushover. Lesnar’s aura could be damaged by a lopsided loss to Hunt. WWE would try to use the loss, having opponents refer to it and even by making Lesnar more vulnerable, making the outcome of his bouts less predictable. But a loss could damage one of WWE’s best drawing cards.
The Lesnar bout, which is supposedly a one-match deal, could be part of a larger deal between WWE and UFC to use UFC competitors at WWE events. Ronda Rousey appeared at WrestleMania 31, and there are rumors that Paige VanZant could appear at SummerSlam or another future WWE major event.
Why would Lesnar agree to this fight? It could be ego. He may want to avenge his first-round losses to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem in his final two UFC fights.
Or Lesnar’s rationale could be similar to Muhammad Ali’s answer when asked why he would agree to fight Antonio Inoki. “Six million dollars, that’s why,” Ali said.
TNA TITLE CHANGES: Congratulations to Bobby Lashley, who won the TNA Heavyweight Championship by choking out Drew Galloway with a submission maneuver at Slammiversary on Sunday. Galloway has been a terrific champion. TNA may not have much quality depth, as was evident during Sunday’s show, but the guys at the top are doing their best to carry the rest of the company on their shoulders.
In other top matches at Slammiversary, Jeff Hardy defeated Matt Hardy in a full metal mayhem match, Ethan Carter III beat Mike Bennett, and Eddie Edwards won the X-Divison Championship from Trevor Lee in a four-way match that also included DJ Zema Ion and Andrew Everett.
HORRIBLE TIMING: Sometimes TNA is fortunate to fly under the radar. If WWE had gone ahead with a pay-per-view in Orlando less than 24 hours after that city experienced the largest mass shooting in United States history, the company would have received a firestorm of criticism. TNA does the same thing and you don’t hear a peep.
MONEY IN THE BANK: Because of all the other major news, WWE’s Money in the Bank, which takes place Sunday on the WWE Network, is taking a bit of a back seat in this edition of Heel Turns. This doesn’t mean, however, that Money in the Bank isn’t a major show. In fact, Money in the Bank has the potential to be a tremendous show.
Let’s start with the main event. Roman Reigns will defend the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Seth Rollins. There is layer after layer of back story to this match. Reigns and Rollins, of course, broke into WWE as teammates (with Dean Ambrose) in The Shield. Rollins destroyed that team when he turned on Reigns and Ambrose. Add in that Rollins won the title at WrestleMania 31 when, as the Money in the Bank winner, he inserted himself into Reigns’ challenge to Brock Lesnar in the main event, and that Rollins was never defeated for the title – he had to give it up after suffering a major knee injury last year – and you have an equation for an excellent match full of intrigue. If Ambrose wins the Money in the Bank match, that will add another layer of intrigue: will he attempt to cash in against a former Shield teammate?
Another highly anticipated match is John Cena vs. A.J. Styles. A perfectly executed betrayal by Styles against Cena a few weeks ago, along with a subsequent beatdown of Cena by Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, set the stage for this match. Styles and Cena have well-deserved reputations for rising to the occasion in big matches. Sunday’s match should enhance their reputations.
One of the highlights of Money in the Bank is, no kidding, the Money in the Bank ladder match. The winner will receive an opportunity to challenge for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship whenever he wants. Based on the buildup indicates this Sunday’s match should be particularly good.
The first element is there are six good workers – Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Alberto Del Rio, Sami Zayn and Ambrose – in the match. Second, there has been tremendous interplay between the six participants in the weeks leading up to the match. Third, there is a logic to any of them winning, which adds to the intrigue. Some (Owens and Ambrose) are more likely to win than the others, but you could make a case for any of the participants to win.
Two titles are also on the line at Money in the Bank. The New Day defends the WWE Tag Team Championship in a fatal four-way match against Gallows and Anderson, Enzo Amore and Big Cass, and the Vaudevillains (Aiden English, Simon Gotch). Achilles Heel sees a potential title change here, ending the New Day’s long championship reign. But the Greek God of Wrestling envisions Rusev retaining the United States Championship against Titus O’Neil.
WWE Women’s champion Charlotte teams up with Dana Brooke to battle Natalya and Becky Lynch. The kickoff show features two “old guard” vs. “new era” matches, with Sheamus squaring off with Apollo Crews, and Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin continuing their ongoing feud.
Money in the Bank appears to be an extremely promising card. If the top three matches deliver, it could be a fantastic show.
NXT IN EUROPE: Coming off yet another outstanding “Takeover” show, NXT is on tour in Europe. At Takeover, Samoa Joe successfully defended the NXT Championship against Finn Balor in a steel cage match and Asuka retained the NXT Women’s Championship against Nia Jax. The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder), however, regained the NXT Tag Team Championship from American Alpha (Jason Jordan and Chad Gable). In a highly anticipated match, Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Austin Aries.
WALKING A TIGHTROPE: In the main event of CHIKARA’s “Tightrope” last Saturday in Philadelphia, “Mr. Touchdown” Mark Angelosetti defeated Juan Francisco De Coronado in a no-disqualification match. In an interesting twist, even though it was a no-disqualification match, Angelosetti refused to break the rules. In another moment of interest, special guest referee Dasher Hatfield, Angelosetti’s former tag team partner, seemed lukewarm about Mr. Touchdown’s victory.
JAY vs. JAY: The main event for Ring of Honor’s Best in the World ’16 on June 24 pits long-time Ring of Honor world champion Jay Lethal against Jay Briscoe. The winner will defend the title the next night against Kyle O’Reilly. Whoever is champion after all of that will defend the title against Colt Cabana in Philadelphia on July 16 at 2300 Arena.
Other matches for Best in the World include the Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin) defending the Ring of Honor Tag Team Championship against former champions The Addiction (Christopher Daniels, Frank Kazarian), Bobby Fish defending the Ring of Honor Television Championship against Dalton Castle, and Roderick Strong vs. Mark Briscoe.
TURNING THE PAGE: Rickey Shane Page won Combat Zone Wrestling’s Tournament of Death 15 Saturday in Townsend, Del. Try to follow this sequence. Page defeated Tim Donst in the first round in a fans bring the weapons/falls count anywhere match. In the semifinals, Page beat Conor Claxton, an upset winner over Masada in a first-round barbed wire madness death match, in a rites of passage match. In the main event, Page defeated CZW world champion Matt Tremont in a ring of fire and wire death match. That’s quite an afternoon’s work.
As a reward for winning the tournament, Page will face Tremont again on July 9 in Dayton, Ohio. This time the CZW World Championship will be on the line.
CRUISING: WWE has released a long list of names for its upcoming Cruiserweight Classic tournament. There is a mix of former WWE wrestlers (Tajiri and Brian Kendrick), international stars (Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr., Akira Tozawa), NXT wrestlers who made their name on the independent scene (Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Rich Swann) and independent stars (Drew Gulak, Tony Nese, TJ Perkins).
The Greek God of Wrestling likes that some of these wrestlers had qualifying matches to earn a spot in the tournament. That makes the Cruiserweight Classic seem more prestigious.
ZIGGING AND ZAGGING: Achilles Heel has enjoyed the work by Kevin Owens and, perhaps more unexpectedly, Dolph Ziggler as guests at the broadcast table in recent weeks. They have different styles and personalities, but both are quick and witty.