The Super Fight was a fictional 1970 boxing match between Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali. At the time, Ali and Marciano were the only undefeated heavyweight champions in history and fans often debated who would win had they met in their primes. Ali and Marciano were filmed acting out every possible scenario in a fight and the result was then determined using probability formulas entered into a computer. The final fight was only shown once in selected cinemas around the world and later released as a DVD.
Punch-by-punch details of the boxer’s records during their prime were entered into an NCR 315 computer. Also their strengths, weaknesses, fighting styles and patterns and other factors and scenarios that the boxers could go through were converted into formulas. The NCR-315 with 20K of memory was supplied by SPS (Systems Programming Services), an independent service bureau in Miami Fla. The algorithms were supplied by an NCR mathematician, and programming was done in Fortran by an employee of SPS. Hank Meyer, President and salesman with a one other partner in SPS, was instrumental in setting this competition up, and contended at the time that it was his idea. The actual running of the software was done the night before each broadcast round of the ‘computer championship’ and took approximately 45 minutes to run, the output was a formatted report containing a series of codes describing each punch. This was then written to magnetic tape, the tape was then manually transferred to a Univac 1005 and printed. This early form of “foot-powered” networking was referred to as sneakernet, the reason for doing this was cost, it was cheaper to print on a 1005 than the 315. This took place in early 1968; the NCR 315 was a state-of-the-art computer at the time.
The outcomes were then staged as radio plays with Woroner and radio announcer Guy LeBow as the commentators. The fantasy fights were broadcast worldwide. Even the boxers who were still alive at the time listened to the programs and some of them participated as commentators. After the series of elimination rounds, the final fight was between Dempsey and Marciano. Marciano defeated Dempsey and was considered to be the all-time greatest heavyweight champion by the computer. Woroner awarded the real Marciano a gold and diamond championship belt worth $10,000.
Ali was angered over his loss to Jim Jeffries in the fantasy fights and sued Woroner for $1 million for defamation of character. The lawsuit was settled when Woroner offered to pay Ali $10,000 to participate in a filmed version of his radio fantasy fights in which Ali would fight Marciano. Ali, who had been stripped of his heavyweight title and American boxing license three years prior, agreed on the condition that he would also receive a cut of the film’s profits. Marciano also agreed to participate with a similar deal. The same formulas were used again and entered into the NCR 315. In 1969, filming began in a Miami studio.
Marciano, whose last fight before retiring was 14 years prior, lost over 50 pounds and wore a toupee in order to look as he did in his prime. Even for a “fake” fight, Marciano and Ali really looked forward to meeting each other and getting back in the ring.
The two fighters sparred for about 70 to 75 rounds, which were later spliced together according to the findings of the computer. The final outcome would not be revealed to anyone until the release of the film. Braddock, Louis, Schmeling, Sharkey and Walcott also recorded commentary to be used in the film. Marciano died in a plane crash three weeks after filming wrapped.
On January 20, 1970, the fight was shown only once in 1500 theaters over closed-circuit television in the United States, Canada, and throughout Europe. It grossed $5 million. The computer had determined that Marciano would knock Ali out in the 13th round and the film was edited to present that outcome. All prints of the fight except one were supposed to be immediately destroyed. However, many theaters played the show long after January 20.
The Super Fight was featured in and inspired a major plot point in the 2006 film Rocky Balboa, in which a computer simulation that pits an in-his-prime Rocky against the current world champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon, inspires both men to agree to a real match.