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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Semenko punches above his weight

EdmontonOilers.com examines the time the late Dave Semenko traded his hockey gloves for boxing gloves for three rounds in the ring against Muhammad Ali in June of 1983.

by Jamie Umbach / EdmontonOilers.com

During the Oilers 40th Anniversary Season, EdmontonOilers.com is looking back at the history of the franchise weekly with Throwback Thursdays.

EDMONTON, AB - Dave Semenko played the role of enforcer for the Oilers for parts of 10 seasons from 1977-87, tasked regularly with the protection of 'The Great One' on the ice.

But a bout with 'The Greatest' would be one of the hardest assignments of his career.

On June 12, 1983, Semenko traded his hockey gloves for boxing gloves for a three-round exhibition with former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in front of an Edmonton crowd of 6,000 strong at the Northlands Coliseum.

Today, on his birthday, Ali would have turned 77. Semenko, after passing away on June 29, 2017 from his biggest fight with cancer, would've been 61.

Ali was 41 at the time of the fight, five years removed from his last world title, and Semenko was a month separated from the Oilers defeat in the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders.

Larry Messier, uncle to Mark and a member of Ali's entourage in public relations, was a big proponent of the fight between the Baddest Man on the Planet and the Baddest Man in the NHL. Oilers President and General Manager Glen Sather signed off on the fight as long as proceeds found their way to worthwhile charities.

'Eye of the Tiger' blared through the speakers as Ali and Semenko took to the ring, with the Oilers tough guy sporting a dark red robe suited more for the bathroom rather than an arena.

"I didn't know what I was supposed to wear and didn't have a boxing wardrobe kicking around the house," Semenko said in his autobiography Looking Out For Number One. "I didn't have boots like Ali, so I got a pair of old black high-top runners. He had his zippered sweatsuit to wear into the ring. I wore a crimson-and-silver terry-towel bathrobe. We hadn't even thought about it, but I'd been wearing the robe when they laced the gloves on me."

The score would officially be scored a draw, with Ali putting on his usual showmanship before he came back at Semenko in the last minutes of the fight and catching the Oilers winger by surprise with a flurry of punches.

"Now I know why he's the greatest champion in the world," Semenko said after the fight from his dressing room. "I'm glad I met him when he's over 40 years old."

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