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In 1976, Herbert Muhammad approached Arum with an offer: A group of Japanese businessmen were willing to pay Ali $6 million to fight Antonio Inoki, a legendary wrestler who had dabbled in mixed martial arts, in Tokyo. At first Arum was reluctant: Ali was already planning to defend his heavyweight title against Ken Norton later in the year. But $6 million was $6 million, so Arum called Vince McMahon Sr., who offered to script the fight.
"The way Vince wrote it, Ali was supposed to come out and look like he was hitting Inoki with punches," says Arum. "Now wrestlers, they use razors to cut themselves. So Inoki was supposed to cut himself, and blood would be everywhere. Then Ali would turn to the ref and say, 'Hey, please stop the fight. Then Inoki would jump on Ali's back and pin him. Ali would get up and say this was just like Pearl Harbor, then we'd all go home. So Ali leaves for Japan. When he gets there he meets with Ron Holmes, the American liaison for Inoki. And Holmes thought everything was legitimate!"
"So I fly over there and me, Ferdie [Pacheco, Ali's doctor], Angelo [Dundee, his trainer] and Herbert meet with these Japanese promoters. I said, 'Hey, we have to figure out how to do this thing.' After about 20 minutes of negotiating the ground rules, these Japanese guys started getting pissed off. They started making all these threats about how Inoki was going to break Ali's leg, how Ali was not going to fight Norton. Then they wanted us to sign a piece of paper saying it was winner take all. When we left the room we had no f------ idea how this fight was going to go. But we had to do the fight. We had sold tickets to the closed circuit at Shea Stadium, with an undercard between Chuck Wepner and Andre the Giant. There was a lot of money on the line.
"So the bell rings, and in the first round, Inoki comes out and flops on his ass and starts kicking his legs out. I'm thinking, OK, this is interesting. Maybe he's playing possum. Second round, same s---. By the fourth round Ali is yelling, 'You bastard, get up and fight.' But Inoki, he's kicking Ali's legs and they start bleeding. Finally Inoki gets up, and Ali swings and misses him by a foot. But Inoki, he staggers back into the ropes like he just got shot. After 15 rounds the referee calls it a draw. Ali's legs got infected, and we almost had to call off the Norton fight."