Muhammad Ali turns 70 — he was a special guest ref for the first WrestleMania

Happy birthday to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who turns 70 today.

It’s easy to forget that Ali was a big part of the promotional machine behind the first WrestleMania in 1985. He served as a special guest referee for the Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff main event.

I don’t know if the WWF’s intent was to ever allow Ali to actually be in the ring officiating the match; what I do know is that Ali stood outside the ring for most of the bout, with WWF official Pat Patterson serving as the the in-ring ref (and no doubt the person directing the traffic during the match, given Mr. T was nervous to be in the ring).

Ali’s most famous moments in pro wrestling came with his boring, boring shoot match with Japanese big-wig Antonio Inoki in 1976. That match was a snoozer and a bomb. However, leading up to the bout, Ali did an angle in which Gorilla Monsoon gave him an airplane spin on a WWWF TV show.

After the confrontation, Monsoon said one of his classic lines, “This guy doesn’t know a wristlock from a wrist watch. How can he get in there with a wrestler?”

It’s well known that Ali’s charismatic interview style was inspired, in part, by him watching wrestling promos. Depending on what you believe, Ali either borrowed from the style of Gorgeous George or Fred Blassie when it came to interviews.

And no doubt some wrestlers — Dusty Rhodes comes to mind — have in turn taken a page from Ali’s personality.

One comment

  1. J.Cee

    The Inoki-Ali match was the centerpiece of another closed circuit show at Shea Stadium that featured another wrestler versus boxer match as Andre the Giant threw boxer Chuck Webner out of the ring. The co-main event was the return of Bruno Sammartino, going against his doctor’s wishes, inflictied punishment on the man who injured his neck some months earlier, Stan Hansen.

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