Kings of the Square Ring (1978)
Mack Video

Okay, set the Video Customizer 9000® for the meeting point between blaxploitation fetsihism and professional wrestling … wait 90 seconds, and here comes Kings of the Square Ring, an excessively dubious video release chock full of baffling entertainment, and featuring footage of Muhammed Ali taking on kick-boxer Antonio Inoki "in a boxing-vs.-grappling grudge match."

The tape ("Banned in Seventeen Countries!" screams the cover) depicts Ali on the front of the box, and is clearly banking on that being the draw here – indeed, it made me curious enough to plunk down 9 bucks for it at Best Buy.

Frankly, I'd like to know which seventeen countries this was banned in, specifically because I'd love to find a country that bans films for having no coherence whatsoever.

The video is set up like a documentary, but in reality is just a series of unrelated segments thrown together with the common thread being that they all relate in some way to martial arts – and that includes straight boxing as well as professional wrestling.

The only reason I can think of that this film was made was as some sort of pre-game hype film for karate fighter Willie Williams, who is shown at the start of the film fighting a bear, and at the end of the film training for a match by doing push-ups over a stream. Otherwise his presence is unexplained.

The footage is all from the late 70s, and the film was clearly made at that time (as opposed to it being a new film using vintage footage). I knew going in that it was going to be some kind of rip-off, though I can't say I was dissatisfied with it overall, just confused.

The Ali footage is total weirdness (and all of four minutes out of the total running time of an hour), and there is no clear winner in the match, although I'd have to say Ali holds his own much better than you'd expect of late-period Ali battling a kickboxer who spends most of his time flat in his back kicking upwards.

The rest of the film focuses on other martial arts giants of the era, particularly Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, to me unknown and representative of a very nebulous sporting age – late 70s/early 80s not-quite-serious, not-quite-funny martial arts/professional wrestling.

Included are such shocking match-ups as the kickboxing champion of Thailand going up against the kickboxing champion of Japan (accompanied by some wild Indonesian music that makes the fight much more unnerving than the usual American wrestling match of the 00s).

By the time the film ("going from the best to the deadliest!") gets around to showing some good old obviously staged wrestling footage (including an amusing match with Andre the Giant), I was a bit stymied as to formulating an opinion of it all. It's not "extreme" in the manner of the out-of-control Japanese wrestling bootlegs that float around the Loud Bassoon offices (no flaming baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire here), nor contextualized enough to be offered up as "sports entertainment."

I can't say it's unwatchable or unappealing, and I'll probably watch it again, but it's not exactly funny or cool either. And I'm still trying to figure out what the box means by "Your ticket to K.F. excitement!"

blank stare

Loud Bassoon rating scale

Review by Big Morgan