It seems as if we may be entering a golden age of novelty sporting crossovers. A few days before Michael Phelps announced to the world that – in the name of science, of course – he would race a large predatory fish, it was finally confirmed that the biggest boxing match since Rumble in the Jungle would take place between an undefeated, 40-year-old multiple champion and a garrulous fashionista from the Dublin suburbs.
Depending on where you get your news, Mayweather v McGregor will be either an absorbing contest between two supremely skilled and respected pugilists, or a crass, cash-grab media circus designed to maximise revenue at the expense of athletic integrity.
But even if you’re of the belief – and we’re not – that this duo have done little more than prostrate themselves at the feet of Midas by agreeing to engage in a lucrative event of dubious merit spanning two very different sporting worlds, it’s not as if they’re treading ground that hasn’t already been trodden.
In fact, there exists an extensive portfolio of similar pursuits stretching back to the seventies and far beyond. For your amusement, we’ve selected from among them a few of our favourites.
Floyd Mayweather Jr v Big Show
Floyd’s got previous. And we’re not just talking about his criminal record.
Back in 2008, he showed up at WrestleMania XXIV to “fight” an overweight, 7-foot former bouncer in a spandex leotard known professionally as Big Show. Things went pretty much as you might have imagined, with Mayweather doing everything in his power to avoid throwing a punch and Big Show lumbering around the ring with all the grace and menace of a doped-up llama on a greasy treadmill.
And yet, despite his rather glaring size-advantage, the goateed hulk somehow failed to gain control of the fight. Mayweather, whose eyebrows were roughly on the same latitude as Big Show’s nipples, danced around the bigger man with snake-like ease for the prescribed ten or so minutes, enduring the occasional armpit-chokehold along the way, but mostly successfully evading the giant’s clumsy embrace.
Then, in a finale that in absolutely no way pandered to stereotypes, Mayweather – having already concussed Big Show with a convincingly dented chair – searched the prone body of a lackey who had previously been downed by the wrestler and removed a large gold chain from around the man’s neck.
“This is turning into a street fight”, screamed the commentator joyfully as Floyd then proceeded to fashion from the chain an ad-hoc bling knuckle-duster and punch Big Show into oblivion.
Classy stuff from all concerned.
Muhammad Ali v Antonio Inoki
Ah, Muhammad Ali. The epitome of cool, class and elegance. Most of the time.
But in 1976, Ali agreed to step into the ring as part of a farcical spectacle that pitted him against a Japanese wrestler by the name of Antonio Inoki.
By the time the two met, Inoki was an experienced and popular fighter. He’d made his name by participating in – and winning – a series of mixed martial arts fights against a variety of patsies. The contest with Ali was to be a bizarre hybrid, with the American wearing 4oz gloves and permitted to tag out of a grapple by touching the ropes.
Apocryphally, it’s said that Ali expected the match to be something of an exhibition until he witnessed Inoki in training.
At that point, supposedly worried by the prospect of a hard-hitting, high-kicking martial-artist knocking out the most famous boxer of all time, the American camp demanded rule-changes that would tilt the fight in Ali’s favour. Kneeing, kicking and hitting below the belt were all forbidden, and Inoki was to remain gloveless.
What resulted was a hot mess of unclear rules and shambolic organisation. The crowd who packed into the Bundokan arena in Tokyo to watch didn’t even know the rules of the fight they were about to watch.
In the first round, they were treated to the bizarre sight of Inoki shuffling doglike around the ring on his arse and kicking upwards at Ali whenever he approached. He’d worked out that the convoluted rules of the bout made this strategy infallible: Ali couldn’t touch him.
On and on went the fight, each round more ridiculous than the last. The pair managed 15 rounds amid a hail of jeers and boos from the spectators, with Ali throwing a grand total of six punches. In the end, a diplomatic draw was declared, and Ali got out of town as fast as he could.
Financially, the whole affair was an utter disaster and, as a result of Inoki’s furious kicking, left Ali with two blood clots in his legs – it was later suggested he was lucky to avoid an amputation. And while the American’s reputation eventually recovered, some of those close to Ali claim that his body never did.
Midgets v Camels
And now for something completely different.
In truth, not much needs to be said about this wonderful event, which was set up by an American TV channel.
Perhaps it’s best to simply let the footage do the talking.
It’s hard to know why this hasn’t caught on.
Bryan Habana v A Bored-looking Cheetah
In the wider context of the animal kingdom as a whole, human beings aren’t really that fast. Certainly, we’re faster than, for example, the slow lemur, but rather more ponderous than, say, the Mexican free-tailed bat.
And yet, we still keep trying to run faster than things that are famous for running much faster than us.
Such was the case when a very worried-looking Bryan Habana pitched up at the De Wildt Research Centre in Magaliesberg for a publicity stunt filmed for international television. Aided by a 50-metre headstart, Habana was challenged to outrun the world’s fastest living land animal, the cheetah, in a footrace.
Unsurprisingly, the Springbok speedster was quickly reeled in by the beast in question, which seemed rather uninterested in the proceedings yet still managed to make up the distance in less time than it takes a Tory leader to U-turn on a policy. Perhaps the only genuinely exciting thing about the whole affair is the look of existential terror on Habana’s face as it suddenly becomes clear to him he might well be literally running for his life.
Dennis Northcutt v An Ostrich
There’s something endearingly pathetic about a highly tuned, well-paid and presumably shameless professional athlete being forced to enter a race against one of the more ridiculous-looking members of the animal world.
Back in 2009, a TV production team somehow convinced NFL star Dennis Northcutt to test the limits of his speed and acceleration against what can only be described as, well… an ostrich.
The rather shaky premise was to decide what is the fastest animal on two feet: human or… ostrich.
As part of the preamble, we see Northcutt running backwards quite a lot, for some reason, but in fairness to him, he approached the whole affair with an admirable amount of dignity in the face of quite astonishing cringeworthiness.
One can only assume Northcutt was compensated bountifully for this inglorious episode but, alas, he couldn’t quite cut it in competition with the bird, which outran him comfortably. Still, at least the narrator managed to leave us with the immortal line in reference to the victorious ostrich: “Final scouting report – great speed in the forty, but she’s got no hands.”