18 Aug 2010 14:15:01 PM
When James Toney meets Randy Couture at UFC 118 next Saturday, he’ll be attempting to prove the dominance of the "sweet science" over that weird stuff that gay skinheads do. Of course, he won’t be the first pugilist to try to beat an MMA fighter at their own game — boxing vs. martial arts challenge matches have been around since before "Lights Out" was born. Join us as we take a look back at the brave boxers who preceded Toney…and what became of them.
MILO SAVAGE vs. "JUDO" GENE LeBELL
December 2, 1963
Arguably the first sanctioned MMA match in American history, Savage vs. LeBell came together when legendary judoka/actor Gene LeBell answered a challenge from boxer Jim Beck, who claimed that a professional boxer could beat any martial artist. (Yep, they’ve been making the same boast for almost 50 years.) According to LeBell, he was expecting to fight Beck himself in the televised match, but his opponent was switched at the last minute to Milo Savage, a top-5-ranked light-heavyweight who was allegedly wearing brass knuckles under his fingerless speed-bag gloves, and was greased from head to toe. Despite the disadvantages, Gene sunk a lapel choke in the 4th round and put Savage to sleep. But as with most stories involving Judo Gene, the details are somewhat debatable; this Jonathan Snowden article debunks several aspects of LeBell’s version. Still, LeBell vs. Savage deserves credit as the first MMA-style fight on television, and set up a rivalry between boxing and martial arts that’s somehow still relevant today.
MUHAMMAD ALI vs. ANTONIO INOKI
June 26, 1976
It sounded like good, harmless fun — the greatest boxer of all time taking on Japanese pro-wrestling kingpin Antonio Inoki in an exhibition match in Tokyo. But in the days leading up to the show, bizarre rules were added that restricted certain attacks. Most notably, Inoki could only kick if he had one knee on the ground. So, he scooted around the ring kicking Ali’s legs for the entire 15-round duration. Ali only landed six punches the entire fight and went home with two blood clots and an infection. The bout was ruled a draw, and has garnered a reputation as one of the ugliest fiascos in the history of combat sports. Fun fact: The referee of this match? None other than mixed-fighting pioneer Gene LeBell.