Sports

How Rocky Marciano Defeated Muhammad Ali Without Ever Actually Fighting Him

Using technology to help determine who was the better athlete might seem like a quintessentially 21st-century idea, but it has been around far longer than people realize. In 1969, Muhammad Ali, was in exile thanks to his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War and Rocky Marciano was too old to compete with the best boxers in the world.

That didn’t stop scientists and boxing experts to devise a plan to get them into a fight together, however. Thus, ‘The Super Fight’ was born. 

Birth of ‘The Super Fight’

Heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano boxing in composited film
Heavyweight champions Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano boxing in composited film created in 1970 | GettyImages

The Super Fight was the brainchild of a radio personality named Murray Woroner. According to WBUR, Woroner wanted to find a way to figure out the greatest heavyweight boxer in history.

To do so, he not only relied on theatrical sound effects, fake commentary, and good old-fashioned publicity but by employing experts and a computer meant to make its results indisputable. 

The methodology is questionable at best, but that didn’t mean that people were not hooked. Author Mike Stanton spoke on the public reaction with WBUR.

“The public loved it,” Stanton said (per WBUR).

“It had a huge audience. It was a huge success. And, even though computer algorithms try to take the emotion out of these barroom debates, you had angry letters from fans about their fighter losing. You had accusations that the computer took a dive.”

In a scene that one could imagine on Twitter with people arguing about LeBron James and Michael Jordan, everyone had an opinion about two fighters, in particular. Marciano was one of the best boxers in the world a decade earlier, and Ali was, even in exile, the greatest boxer of the current generation. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on who would win in a fight between the two.

In the experiment, however, Ali lost to fighter Jim Jeffries in the second round before they could run into each other. Ali was so distraught by this, that he sued Woroner for implying that he could ever lose such a bout. Furthermore, Marciano was reportedly strapped for cash and could have used a little money himself.

Muhammad Ali vs. Rocky Marciano: ‘The Super Fight’ 

To appease Ali and take his experiment a step further, Woroner proposed that they settle the suit for one dollar if Ali agreed to do a computer fight against Marciano.

To accomplish this, both fighters were filmed performing 70 one-minute rounds in a variety of scenarios. To add authenticity to this facade of indisputable data, Woroner claimed to have spoken to nearly every living fighter and expert. In reality, however, it was just a publicity stunt. 

With all the footage that was collected, the fight was produced like a movie and sent to theaters. Alleging to piece through all the footage to accurately create with the computer had told them, the fight had interesting results. The American cut of the fight had Marciano win, while the overseas cut gave the match to Ali. 

Ali later admitted that the entire fight was simply entertainment. Still, the legacy of the fight lives on.

Legacy of the fight

To this day, versions of this same event are happening. Sports are increasingly dependent on the types of analytics that were purportedly used to decide the fight.

Furthermore, anybody with a video game system can theoretically create their own simulations. While the entire thing may have been built on a farce disguised as an experiment, it worked. 

Fans of the Rocky franchise will remember that a similar event helps kick off the aging boxers return to the ring against the fictional Mason Dixon. As for Ali and Marciano, the two forged a friendship after filming the fight, although Marciano died just one month later in a plane crash. Computers and sports have always gone together, and while this execution might have been fraudulent, it predicted a trend. 

The Super Fight exists in its own strange world, but what it represents shows where sports are in 2020. Now, more accurate simulations are often just a clock or button-push away from happening.