Weird and wonderful

Graham Houston
24/08/2017 10:35pm

Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor certainly qualifies as an oddity, but boxing has had a good few of those over the years. Graham Houston recalls ten of them...

When we think of a bizarre event involving a famous boxer, Muhammad Ali’s 15-round draw against heavyweight wrestling champ Antonio Inoki in Tokyo on 25 June 1976 is probably the first that comes to mind.

The rules stated that Inoki would not be allowed to tackle or throw Ali. The Japan Times described the affair as “pretty much a bore from start to finish”. Inoki’s strategy was based on falling to the canvas and kicking at Ali’s legs. Ali gestured to Inoki to stand up and fight and hardly threw a punch.

1356559177Foreman vs Five in Toronto on 26 April 1975 was a one-hour event in which former heavyweight champion George Foreman took on five opponents, one after the other, with TV coverage on the ABC network’s Wide World of Sports show.

Muhammad Ali was brought on board to interpret the goings-on alongside commentator Howard Cosell. Each of the five “fights” was scheduled for three rounds. Cosell called it “an afternoon that cannot have a wholesome aspect in George Foreman’s boxing career”.

Alonzo Johnson, Terry Daniels, Jerry Judge, Charlie Polite and old rival Boone Kirkman were all easily beaten although Polite and Kirkman went the distance. Kirkman, overwhelmed by Foreman in two rounds in November 1970, did better this time, even seeming to stagger the ex-champ with a left hook in the second round.

An ageing Archie Moore halted “Professor” Roy Shire, Sterling Davis and Mike DiBiase in boxer-wrestler matches held under boxing rules. Moore, in his 131st knockout, stopped DiBiase in the third round in Phoenix on 15 March 1963. Moore was 46 or 49 at the time (accounts vary). DiBiase had issued a challenge after Moore had refereed one of the grappler’s matches. DiBiase was no match for the old master, although it was a cut over DiBiase’s eye that caused the bout to be stopped in the third round.

Kansas-raised Olympic shot put world record holder and Olympic gold medallist Bill Nieder tried his hand at boxing after gold-medal glory in Rome, appearing in a scheduled six-round heavyweight bout against a trial horse named Jim Wiley in Philadelphia on 15 May 1961. (Future middleweight champion Joey Giardello fought Canada’s Wilf Greaves in the main event.)

Although a big, strong man at 6ft 4ins and 240lbs, Nieder’s lack of boxing skills were woefully apparent. Wilder dropped him twice to win by knockout after two minutes, 10 seconds of the opening round. The second and final knockdown saw Nielsen, 26, sent sprawling under the bottom rope and out of the ring. “Nieder never had a chance,” the Associated Press news agency reported. Nieder never boxed again.

Paul Anderson, weighing a tank-like 290lbs at a height of 5ft 9ins, was the 1956 Olympic super heavyweight weight-lifting gold medallist and billed as “The World’s Strongest Man”. He gave boxing a go but the much smaller Attilio Tondo stopped him in the third of a scheduled six-round bout at Charlotte, North Carolina on 25 April 1960. Although Anderson, 27, had Tondo down three times he quickly became exhausted.

Anderson won two subsequent appearances against obscure opponents in his home state of Georgia but gave up boxing after being disqualified for throwing his opponent to the canvas in a bout in South Carolina.

Cricketer Freddie Flintoff, 34, trained under the direction of Barry McGuigan for a one-off appearance as a heavyweight boxer, getting off the canvas to win a four-round, 39-38 points victory over an opponent named Richard Dawson, from Oklahoma, at Manchester Arena on 30 November 2012. (The main event that night saw Denton Vassell stop Ronnie Heffron in the sixth round of a Commonwealth welterweight title bout.)

BoxNation televised the show. “F. [Flintoff] shows a great deal of enthusiasm, D. [Dawson] looks dreadful,” my notes remind me. Dawson seemed to knock Flintoff down almost by accident in the second round when the cricketer ran into a short left hand. “D. [Dawson] doesn’t attempt to follow up,” I noted.

The bout was criticised by some members of the British boxing fraternity but promoter Frank Warren saw it as basically a fun fight between novices that provided entertainment value. “What Freddie Flintoff did was commendable,” Warren told The Sunday Telegraph. “He took it seriously.”

Actor Mickey Rourke, at the age of 64, took part in what has been described as an exhibition bout — although a Russian bookmaker offered betting odds — in Moscow on 28 November 2014. Rourke’s opponent, a 29-year-old Pasadena, California middleweight named Elliott Seymour, had a record of one win and nine losses. Regulation-size gloves were worn and neither man wore a headguard. Rourke had done some boxing 20 years earlier against handpicked opponents. Seymour seemed to give up very easily, going down twice in the second round. Rourke landed a right hand to his opponent’s back with Seymour on hands and knees but no one seemed to mind. Rourke celebrated as if he had won a real fight. The crowd seemed to enjoy it for what it was.

Muhammad Ali boxed an eight-round nationally televised exhibition match against former Denver Broncos defensive end Lyle Alzado at Mile High Stadium in Denver on a blazing-hot July afternoon in 1979. Ali, 37, said he was overweight and hadn’t trained for the bout apart from “a little bit of running”. Alzado, 30, had done some boxing as an amateur and told the Associated Press he’d always dreamed of being heavyweight champ. He even floated the idea of giving up football to devote himself to a boxing career.

A crowd estimated at 20,000 turned out for the curiosity, with the NBC network televising. There was to be no official decision but TV viewers were invited to score for themselves. Ali landed a sharp right hand in the first minute, as if to show Alzado who was boss, and after this there was considerable clinching, plus good-natured taunting on both sides. Ali was clearly taking it easy and perhaps allowed Alzado to land some punches just to give the fans and TV viewers a bit of a show.

Old rivals Jeff Fenech and Azumah Nelson took part in a “battle of the legends” trilogy 10-rounder in Melbourne on 24 June 2008. They had boxed a controversial draw in Las Vegas and then Nelson scored an eighth-round stoppage win in Melbourne. Now, 16 years on from their last fight, Ghanaian Nelson was one month away from his 50th birthday and hadn’t boxed in a decade, while Fenech, 44, had been out of the ring for 12 years.

Still, the ageing fighters, now boxing as light-middleweights, provided an earnest effort. Nelson seemed to hurt Fenech with a left hook in the last round but the Australian fighter held on to win a majority decision. “The warriors have given it their all,” the Australian TV commentator exclaimed. (Now another golden-oldies trilogy fight could be in the offing, with Nigel Benn and Steve Collins, both past the age of 50, talking up a third meeting.)

It doesn’t appear on his BoxRec record but former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey knocked out a wrestler named Clarence Luttrell in Atlanta, Georgia on 1 July 1940. Dempsey, who had just turned 45, weighed 205lbs while Luttrell — described in a contemporary report as “flabby” — weighed 224lbs.

The fight, held under boxing rules, was said to be a grudge fight stemming from when Dempsey refereed some of Luttrell’s wrestling matches. The old champion basically beat up the grappler, knocking him out after one minute 58 seconds of the second round before an estimated 10,000 crowd. Dempsey was “hit harder by the back-slappers than he was by Luttrell”, Associated Press reported.

“The whole affair carried an atmosphere of unreality,” AP added — which could perhaps also be applied to Mayweather vs McGregor.