clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

WWE and the pro wrestling world say goodbye to Muhammad Ali

Ali with "Classy" Freddie Blassie

We'll be hearing, seeing and reading a lot about Muhammed Ali over the next several days, following the cultural icon's death at the age of 74.

His relationship to the artform known as pro wrestling will probably be pretty low on the list of things discussed, and it should be. Heck, boxing - the sport whose headlines he dominated from when he still called himself Cassius Clay - should maybe be secondary to what Ali the man meant to so many people.

But, as you could probably guess of a performer who dubbed himself "The Greatest of All-Time", Ali was both influenced by and an influence on pro graps. And his career intersected with it on more than one occasion.

Perhaps most famously, he served as a special guest referee for the main event of the first WrestleMania - which saw him take a swing at Roddy Piper and raise Hulk Hogan's hand.

Well before that, Ali worked a program with WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki which culminated in a 15 round draw on June 26, 1976. The fight took place in Tokyo, but was broadcast on closed-circuit television at a Vince McMahon, Sr. promoted event in New York.

In the build to that fight, Ali put over Gorilla Monsoon in an unsanctioned run-in (imagine Floyd Mayweather doing this while holding a World title, as Ali did at the time):

Inoki and Ali would remain friends, and the boxer's influence on Japanese wrestlers continues on until today in things like the name of Shinsuke Nakamura's finishing move.

WWE has sent along their condolences to Ali's family, and a video tribute is probably forthcoming.

In the meantime, as you think of him over the next few days, remember he was the original "People's Champion" - and that every time you see a wrestler cut a boastful promo, there's a little bit of Ali in there.

Rest in Power.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats