The concept of a ‘dream match’ is hardly a new one in sports; over the years, one-off marquee bouts have drawn significant money for promoters of boxing, MMA, professional wrestling, and even basketball. Whether it was Ali vs. Inoki, Mayweather vs. McGregor, Backlund vs. Flair, or the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals, the recurring truism about all of these contests is that they existed to reap the benefits of short- term gains rather than to ensure long-term prosperity. Though undoubtedly increasing the profile of the victor, and sometimes the loser, these fantasy matches occurred in the moment, not noticeably affecting the future business prospects of the respective sports. UFC’s numbers did not show a significant shift upwards after Conor McGregor’s record-breaking clash with Floyd Mayweather, nor did Antonio Inoki become a bigger draw overseas after his farcical fight with Muhammed Ali.
The Inoki vs. Ali match itself very much followed the adage that anticipation often trumps the climax, with the hype surrounding the bout far more exciting than the tedious showdown itself, in which Inoki spent the
majority squatted in a crab position kicking at Ali’s legs. It is often the case, whether it be in intra-sport clashes or intra-promotional wrestling matches, that egos and politics come into play and nobody wants to be the one at a disadvantage.
Intra-promotional matches were a huge draw in the territory days, back when there was more than one player in town. Before the WWF took over the world, wrestling promotions were contained mostly within city or state boundaries, be it World Class in Dallas, the CWA in Memphis, the AWA in Minnesota, or the WWWF in New York. The only way fans from one city could learn about what was going on in another was via the multitude of wrestling magazines that flooded the newsstands. There was no nationally broadcasting cable television to air programs outside of those local markets prior to Vince McMahon changing the game in the mid-80s. Everything was self-contained and each World Champion was considered the only true World Champion to fans of those promotions.
Yet, now and again, those champions would travel around the circuit, giving promoters the opportunity to bill ‘dream matches’ between their top star and a touring champion from elsewhere. Inevitably, the end result would be a cheap, underwhelming payoff, usually an unsatisfying double count out or double disqualification finish. The former was the outcome when WWWF Champion Bob Backlund met NWA Champion Ric Flair in 1982. It was designed to protect both men and both promotions so there were no losers. Ultimately, it was the fans who lost out.