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This Day in Wrestling History (June 26): Ali vs. Inoki

40 years ago today in Tokyo, Japan, Antonio Inoki and heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali fought to a 15-round draw in a boxer versus wrestler match.

Under the rules of the match, Inoki could not suplex, throw, or use submissions on Ali. Basically, this led to Inoki lying on his back and kicking away at Ali's legs and Ali backing away.

The bout aired on closed circuit television in the United States and is widely regarded as one of the most disappointing and boring matches in wrestling history. The bout did go a long way for Inoki's legend; after all, he went 15 rounds with "the greatest of all time".

A couple of stats: Ali threw a total of six punches in the fight (with only four landing, none at all in the first six rounds). Inoki landed 107 kicks to Ali's legs. Also, Inoki committed three fouls in the fight, each costing a point. One less foul, and Inoki wins. Needless to say, the crowd was none too happy with the result; they demanded refunds after the result was announced.

Oh, and not that you need to be told this, but the whole thing was a work.

24 years ago today, Herman Rohde, Jr., best known to wrestling fans as "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, died following complications from a series of strokes at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 71.

Born February 20, 1921 in Camden, New Jersey, to German immigrants, Rogers had a knack for athletics growing up. At just age nine, he took up wrestling at the Camden YMCA. He joined their wrestling league on the advice of one of the instructors and won their heavyweight championship. He also excelled in four other sports growing up: football, boxing, track, and swimming, where he won the YMCA three-mile swimming championship.

His young adult life saw Rogers join a circus, work at a shipyard, and became a police officer, but in July 1939, he made his professional wrestling debut after a chat with promoters Frank and Ray Hanley. In his debut, he defeated Moe Brazen. Under his real name, Rohde would soon become a household name in his hometown when he defeated Ed "Strangler" Lewis.

Rodhe, all 5'11" and 195 pounds of him, would become Buddy Rogers when he worked in Houston. Success would find him there, winning the Texas heavyweight championship four times (one of the four title wins was against Lou Thesz). While working in Columbus, Rogers bleached his hair and became "Natural Guy", then "Nature Boy" by promoter Jack Pfefer. Rogers even had a valet in the early 1950s: Lillian Ellison, aka the Fabulous Moolah (but at the time Slave Girl Moolah). The partnership ended when according to Ellison she refused Buddy's sexual advances.

Rogers came along right in the advent of television. His flashy look, stunning physique, and off-the-charts charisma made him an instant hit...and very hated among audiences. In fact, Rogers was so popular, Sam Muchnick's wrestling promotion in St. Louis with Rogers merged with a rival promotion that had Lou Thesz as its top star. Rogers was dominant in the Midwestern United States, frequently selling out an 11,000-seat arena in Chicago. Buddy would expand his reach to Vince McMahon Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling Corporation.

On June 30, 1961 with 38,622 watching at Comiskey Park, a North American attendance record for a wrestling event until 1984 (the gate of $148,000 also set a world professional wrestling record, a record that stood for nearly 20 years), Buddy Rogers defeated Pat O'Connor to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in a best of three falls match dubbed "The Match of the Century".

Rogers would also gain tag team gold, winning the United States Tag Team Championships with Johnny Barend. They held them until the spring of 1963, losing them (but shouldn't have) to Killer Buddy Austin & The Great Scott (it was a best of three falls match, and one fall was a disqualification).

Rogers seemed to favor the northeastern promoters over other territories, and that drew the ire of other NWA promoters and wrestlers: Karl Gotch and Bill Miller confronted Rogers and Broke his hand. Killer Kowalski broke his right tibia in Montreal. Eventually, the NWA voted him out of the title, ordering the switch in Toronto on January 24, 1963 to Lou Thesz. Rogers, hesitant to drop the belt, put three safeguards to guarantee his cooperation: (1) the match was only one fall instead of best two out of three (a custom with world title matches until the mid-1970s), (2) threatening to give his $25,000 deposit to charity if he didn't cooperate, and (3) Thesz would shoot on Rogers if needed. In the end, Rogers cooperated and Thesz won the title.

Later in the year, Vince McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt withdrew their membership from the NWA and formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation, citing Lou Thesz wasn't a strong draw in their area. In their first major act, Willie Glizenberg, the WWWF "president" announced on television that Rogers won a tournament in Rio de Janeiro to become the first WWWF Champion. A mild heart attack that greatly diminished him physically basically cut the first ever WWWF title reign short. With fans unhappy, McMahon made the decision to put the championship on the hugely popular (and much more powerful) Bruno Sammartino.

On May 17, 1963, Bruno defeated Buddy in just 48 seconds to win the WWWF Championship. Rogers, who allegedly had to be dragged kicking and screaming out of his hospital bed to drop the title due to him being ill (though some, including Sammartino, claimed Rogers was faking it), quickly left the ring disheartened and stunned. Rogers remained near the top of the card while he waited for his rematch.

The rematch was set to take place on October 4, 1963. But on that day at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey, Rogers announced his retirement. Gorilla Monsoon, who had won a tournament, would get the shot at Sammartino (Bruno won). Rogers wrestled occasionally in 1969 for The Sheik's promotion in Montreal and Detroit. He also wrestled and co-hosted Wrestling Show Classics in Ohio with former manager Bobby Davis.

In 1978, Rogers returned at age 57 in the Florida territory, then went to Jim Crockett Promotions as a heel manager for wrestlers including Jimmy Snuka, Ken Patera, Gene Anderson, and Big John Studd.  His most notable feud was against new "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. In July 1978, Flair defeated Rogers. He soon left for the WWF where he was a babyface manager, part-time wrestler, and talking segment host of "Rogers' Corner". While feuding with Captain Lou Albano and Ray Stevens in 1983, Rogers broke his hip and retired from wrestling for good.

In early 1992, he was set to face "Nature Boy" Buddy Landel for the Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, but the promotion shut down and the match never took place. Later in the year, Rogers suffered a severe broken arm and three strokes (two of the three occurring on the same day). Rogers was put on life support, where he would live out his final days.

Rogers, while not well-liked and barely respected in his prime, mellowed out in his later years and would become one of the sport's most respected veterans. And he wasn't afraid to throw hands at his advanced age: at age 68, he fought off a 29-year old man who was harassing two female employees at a sandwich shop in Fort Lauderdale. He's credited with inventing the figure-four grapevine, a hold that would later be adopted—strut and all—by Ric Flair. In 1994, he was posthumously inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. He was also posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, Debbie, one son, David, and brother John.

24 years ago today in Tokyo, Japan, The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) defeated Big Van Vader & Bam Bam Bigelow to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship. On the same show, El Samurai defeated Jushin "Thunder" Liger to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

16 years ago today on RAW is WAR from Worcester, Massachusetts (WWE Network link), Mick Foley is introduced as the new Commissioner of the WWF after it was revealed that Shawn Michaels had stepped down from his post a few weeks prior. This would be Michaels' last WWF appearance until 2002.

15 years ago today at a Smackdown taping in New York City (WWE Network link), Albert defeated Kane to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship.

13 years ago today, WWE announces via a statement that Roddy Piper has been released.

The release comes after Piper appeared on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in a piece about wrestling deaths. Piper was critical of WWE. The release comes on the same day he appeared on Smackdown. The statement:

"Since March 31, 2003, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. ("WWE") and Roderick Toombs, p/k/a "Roddy Piper", have attempted to negotiate the terms of an arrangement for Roddy to appear on WWE programming through August of this year. The parties have been unable to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

On Tuesday, June 24, Piper appeared on an HBO program and revealed disturbing facts about his own personal drug use. Piper stated that he used drugs for many years while working in professional wrestling and that he does not like the person that he becomes when he actively performs as a professional wrestler.

In view of WWE's inability to reach agreement on a contract and to assist Piper from engaging in any self destructive behavior, the WWE is ending any further discussion with Piper regarding a contract. The WWE sincerely hopes for Piper and his family that Roddy can find happiness."

Piper would return to the company in 2005 when he is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He remained on good terms with the company until his passing in July 2015.

11 years ago today, WWE presented Vengeance (WWE Network link) from the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. 9,850 were in attendance, with 420,000 homes watching on PPV. That's up from 240,000 homes for the 2004 edition.

  • In a Sunday Night Heat preshow match, Rosey and The Hurricane defeated The Heart Throbs (Antonio and Romeo) to retain the World Tag Team Championship.
  • Carlito defeated Shelton Benjamin to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
  • Victoria defeated Christy Hemme.
  • Kane defeated Edge.
  • Shawn Michaels defeated Kurt Angle.
  • John Cena defeated Christian and Chris Jericho in a triple threat match to retain the WWE Championship.
  • Batista defeated Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match to retain the World Heavyweight Championship.

9 years ago today, ECW on Sci-Fi opens with Vince McMahon giving a statement on the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide. In brief, there will be no direct reference made to the tragedy including any mention of Benoit's name.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last night on Monday Night Raw, the WWE presented a special tribute show, recognizing the career of Chris Benoit. However, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this horrific tragedy are now apparent. Therefore, other than my comments, there will be no mention of Mr. Benoit's name tonight. On the contrary, tonight's show will be dedicated to everyone who has been affected by this terrible incident. This evening marks the first step of the healing process. Tonight, WWE performers will do what they do better than anyone else in the world: entertain you."

The brief statement is the last time Benoit's name is mentioned on WWE programming. WWE ultimately decides to distance themselves from the former world champion, removing nearly all references of Benoit on their website. Benoit's matches and segments were also removed from WWE Classics on Demand programming. WWE would sort of reverse course on this with the launch of the WWE Network in 2014. Benoit's matches and segments are available; however, any video with him in it opens with a disclaimer.

As for the show, WWE Champion John Cena submitted ECW Champion Johnny Nitro in a non-title match, and CM Punk defeated Elijah Burke 2-1 in a best of three falls match to become the #1 contender for the ECW Championship.

5 years ago today, Ring of Honor presented Best in the World from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.

  • In a dark match, Generation Me (Jeremy Buck & Max Buck) defeated Adam Cole & Kyle O'Reilly by disqualification.
  • Tommaso Ciampa defeated Colt Cabana.
  • Jay Lethal defeated Mike Bennett.
  • Homicide defeated Rhino in a no holds barred street fight.
  • Michael Elgin defeated Steve Corino.
  • El Generico defeated Christopher Daniels to win the ROH World Television Championship.
  • Wrestling's Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin) defeated Kings of Wrestling (Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli), The All Night Express (Rhett Titus and Kenny King), and the Briscoe Brothers (Jay and Mark) in a four-team elimination match to retain the ROH World Tag Team Championship.
  • Davey Richards defeated Eddie Edwards to win the ROH World Championship.

On the same day, ROH announced that Haas & Benjamin signed a new contract. Both remain with the company until 2013. Haas left ROH and retired from full-time wrestling; Benjamin asked for and was granted his release.

Happy 39th birthday today to Matthew Kaye, who is best known to wrestling fans as Matt Striker.

Kaye made news in 2005 when he pursued his wrestling career by using sick days he accumulated at his other job, teaching at a high school in New York City. He would serve as a jack-of-all-trades in his eight years with the company, first wrestling, then mostly commentating in the latter half of his career. After being released in 2013, he got back into the ring on the independent circuit. These days, he's mostly commentating, serving as the play-by-play man for Lucha Underground. He was also the English commentator for Wrestle Kingdom 9, Lucha Libre World Cup 2015, and TripleMania XXIII.

Happy 46th birthday to Sandra Gonzalez Calderon. Lucha fans know her better as Lady Apache.

The stepmother of Faby and Mari Apache, and current wife of AAA's Electroshock, Gonzalez worked for Mexico's top two companies, CMLL and AAA. In CMLL, she won their world women's championship three times and is a two-time Mexican national women's champion. In AAA, she has a world mixed tag team championship run with her husband Electroshock and is a two-time winner of the Reina de Reinas (Queen of Queens) championship. She is currently the World Wrestling Association Womens Champion.

Happy 74th birthday to James Morrison, but wrestling fans know him better as J.J. Dillon.

Dillon is best known as the manager of the leader of the original Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard). The longtime manager left WCW in 1989 for a front-office position in the WWF for most of the 1990s. In the late 1990s, Dillon served as an on-air authority figure for WCW and TNA. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of the Horsemen. The next year, he was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Dillon is a three-time manager of the year award winner by Pro Wrestling IIllustrated.

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