Since MMA’s surge in popularity over the past decade, many fans and pundits have entertained themselves with debates regarding celebrated athletes in specialized sports and whether they would have been successful fighting in a cage.
Whether it be pro-wrestlers, boxers, American football players or even just celebrities, these MMA debates have become commonplace over the past few years. Most recently, Submission Radio pondered that question regarding arguably the greatest heavyweight boxer in history, Muhammad Ali, with ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell.
LeBell suggested that the controversial boxer, who accumulated world titles and even an Olympic Gold medal during his illustrious career, would have been successful in MMA. However, he would have needed to adjust his game accordingly to incorporate some ground fighting.
“He would have been successful, but he would have had to get into other martial arts,” LeBell told Submission Radio. “He’d have had to get into the wrestling, the ground and pound. Which means when you’re down on the ground – in boxing, you know you get up if you get knocked down. In MMA, you can beat the heck out of a guy with your fist when he’s down, or hit him with your elbow and cut his eyes open, or break his nose. So you have to learn more. If Muhammad Ali was to fight nowadays, he’d have had to learn a lot more. But he was to me, the best heavyweight fighter of all times in my opinion.”
While he never took part in an MMA fight – the term was not coined until at least a decade after his retirement – Ali did get matched up with Japanese pro-wrestling legend Antonio Inoki. The fight was contested under a special rule set and is seen as a precursor to modern MMA. Interestingly enough, LeBell served as the referee in that exhibition match.
Transcription taken from Submission Radio.
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