Back in 1983, Larry Messier had an idea.
His nephew Mark, then 22, was a rising star with the Edmonton Oilers, alongside another 22-year-old phenom in Wayne Gretzky. At the time, Dave Semenko was the enforcer given the job of protecting the two. Semenko was considered by some to be the NHL’s Heavyweight at the time. Larry Messier, however, was working for the real Heavyweight Champ. The Greatest Fighter of all time.
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I’ll let Yahoo! Sports pick it up from here:
He was part of Muhammad Ali’s entourage, working public relations for him. Ali was 41 years old – two years removed from his ignominious defeat at the hands of Trevor Berbick in Nassau, and one year before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The greatest boxer – hell, the greatest sports celebrity – who ever lived was now more personality than pugilist.
He had participated in exhibition matches before, like the infamous one against Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976. So Messier started to put a proposal together: a three-round exhibition boxing match at the Northlands Coliseum between the Baddest Man on the Planet and the Baddest Man on the Oilers.
Glen Sather, ruler of everything Edmonton, signed off on it as long as the proceeds went to charity. Semenko was sold from the first word about the idea, and connected with Rocky Addison, a former Manitoba middleweight champion, to begin a training regimen that included the ultimate sacrifice for an Edmonton Oilers player at that time: Going clean and sober for several weeks.
What was in it for Ali?
Larry Messier, at the time, said Ali was doing it for charity and to show up Semenko. “He thinks, ‘Who does Dave Semenko think he is, running around the NHL beating everyone up?’” claimed Messier.
He didn’t mentioned how much Ali was being compensated for the fight. Ali dodged the topic as well, as Ali did: “I’m not here for the money because you couldn’t afford to pay me,” he said. “I’m here because you all have followed me over the years and you can tell your grandchildren you did see him.”
While Ali wasn’t exactly in top form at the time, Semenko was – to the point where he was warned by a member of Ali’s team not to do something stupid like try and take the champ’s head off.
However, Semenko said his first meeting with Ali before the fight was pretty memorable:
When I was first taken over to his house to have a meeting about the fight, Ali came walking into the room, put his hands up and said, ‘Okay, show me something.’ I threw a few combinations and Ali said ‘Don’t worry, kid, we’ll make it look good.’ Then he left to take a nap!”
Not quite a month after the Oilers’ season ended after being swept by the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Final, Semenko and Ali were in the ring facing each other.
Rest in peace, Champ.