Today in Sports History: March 31

Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton in 1973
Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton in 1973 Photo credit: Getty

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out live sport all around the globe, but history will never be erased.

While you contemplate streaming yet another NetFlix drama or re-watch the Cricket World Cup semi-final from 2011, here are some stories that were making news in years past on March 31.

Muhammad Ali - suffers a broken jaw in a shock split-decision loss to fellow American Ken Norton in San Diego. Only the second loss of his 43-fight career at the time, 'The Greatest' concedes the now-defunct NABF heavyweight title in the process. 

But the smooth-talking boxing technician would gain revenge two years later, defeating Norton in the rematch and the trilogy fight in 1976. 

Ali would retire eight years later in 1981, with a career record of 56-5, losing three of his last four bouts.


Billie Jean King in action
Billie Jean King in action Photo credit: Getty

American tennis star Billie Jean King ends the incredible 57-match winning streak of Australian great Margaret Court in Indianapolis. 

King came to global prominence five months later, when she won the 'Battle of the Sexes' against the 55-year-old former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs.


Michael Jordan in action for the Chicago White Soz minor league side
Michael Jordan in action for the Chicago White Soz minor league side Photo credit: Getty

Chicago White Sox send NBA superstar Michael Jordan to the minor-league system, effectively ending his flirtation with baseball. 

At the end of the 1993 NBA finals, Jordan announced his retirement from all basketball, citing a loss of desire to play the game and troubles dealing with the murder of his father a few months earlier. 

'Air' Jordan would then shock the sporting world, signing a development contract with the MLB franchise - Jordan's father had always hoped his son would pursue baseball, rather than basketball. 

Jordan never quite cracked the baseball realm and returned to the court in 1995, adding a further three NBA championships to his previous three. 

A US District Court Federal judge effectively ends the 232-day Major League Baseball player strike, after issuing an injunction against all of the league 32 club owners. The players took their no-play action, over a proposed salary-cap system that would effectively halve their salaries. 

Shawn 'The Heartbreak Kid' Michaels wins his first WWE (then WWF) championship, defeating Bret 'Hitman' Hart at WrestleMania 12 in California.

Eighteen months later, the two sports entertainers would be at the centre of the most infamous incident in professional wrestling history - the 'Montreal Screwjob'.

Today in Sports History: March 31
Photo credit:

Hart was leaving WWE for rival World Championship Wrestling, but in his final match, refused to relinquish the title he had regained earlier that year. WWE owner Vince McMahon was ringside during the match, which was planned to finish in a double disqualification, and ordered the referee to "ring the bell", while Michaels held Hart in a submission move, giving the title to Michaels. The incident marked the first true instance of reality crossing scripted lines in pro wrestling. 

German brothers Michael and Ralf Schumacher become the first siblings to share the front row of a Formula One grid, qualifying first and second respectively for the Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo.


1878 - African-American Jack Johnson, the first true boxing great and first black American heavyweight champion
1928 - Canadian hockey great Gordie Howe 
1977 - Australian Supercars driver Garth Tander 
1983 - South African cricketer Hashim Amla


Jesse Owens
Jesse Owens Photo credit: Getty

1980 - Four-time 1936 Olympic gold medallist Jesse Owens dies of lung cancer, aged 66.