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TOKYO — Thank you, Andre the Giant, and thank you, Chuck Wepner — you made a fight of it.

They were seen on TV here Saturday in a Shea Stadium, New York, prelim to the Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki "World Martial Arts Championship," or so it was billed, which followed.

The worst thing that can be said about the Ali-Inoki event is that it started.

The best thing that can be said about it is that it ended.

It was so boring watching the worl heavyweight boxing champion and the Japan wrestling champ never make a go of it that, for amusement, song titles came to this disenchanted spectator's mind.

Such as:

"It Takes Two to Tango," "Two Different Worlds," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Oh, How I Miss You Tonight," "Why Can't We Be Friends," "Don't Be That Way," and, perhaps most appropriate, "Sayonara."

Two things are for sure today:

1) Ali has a very sore left leg after having been kicked almost 40 times as Inoki tried his "jumping entrapment" maneuvers.

2) Inoki has a very sore behind. By this spectator's count Inoki hit the deck 86 times.

Before the event the word around the arena was that further rules changes had put the clamps on Inoki's possible courses of action. No forearm chops to the chest or shoulders, for example.

After the event, Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee appeared to be as puzzled as the newsmen talking to him. What had the event proved?

"Well, I don't know," Dundee said. "But there's no doubt Muhammad Ali is a tremendous attraction."

Referee Gene Le Bell said, "I had it dead even. Two champions. Two champions in their own arts. The draw is okay. I had it a draw. Ali's the champion. Inoki's the champion."

L e Bell appeared a bit frazzled from the exertion of refereeing such an unusual contest. A scribe questioned whether the event had been legit.

"It was a fight! " Le Bell shouted.

A moment later Le Bell elaborated. "The only arguments were the lack of knowledge of other. people's rules. I thought it was a great fight. There're both champions on and off the mats."

Le Bell said he took points away from Inoki for "a karate kick and once to the groin," when it appeared the frustrated wrestler had kneed Ali when they were tangled on the ropes in the 13th round.

He explained that Inoki's shoe "split apart at the seam. Not bad but it still is like a razor blade if there's no tape put on."

How many punches did Ali land?

"Watch the reruns."

The reruns showed five, possibly six punches landed by Ali.

Before the reruns was a video replay of the Andre-Wepner fight and It looked for real. Wepner hit Andre. Not once. Not twice, but several times. He repeated the process. Andre waded in past Wepner's assault and grabbed Wepner. Not once but several times, finally heaving him from the ring in the third round to win.

Why was there such a difference between the contest in Shea Stadium and the one in Japan?

Andre doubles as a circus giant. Wepner sells booze in Bayonne, N.J., when he isn't fighting. For guys like this there's no tomorrow. There's only a payday today.

Ali and Inoki are now wealthy and justly so. But they have future commitments worth millions more.

Maybe each got psyched out by the other's mystique.

Andre and Chuck couldn't afford that luxury. Nor could they afford to spend the entire night complaining because the other guy wouldn't fight "my way."

Like it or not the circus guy and the booze salesman had to go out there and boogie. And they did.

And neither will ever be champion of anything.

Thanks, Andre. Thanks, Chuck.


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