49 Years Ago Tonight: Battle of the Sexes

Legends Sep 20, 2022

Editor's Note:  Posted with the permission of Canadian writer James Fell.


Bobby Riggs was a tennis player and a sexist douche.

He was World No. 1 in tennis for three years back in the 1930s and 1940s, and in 1973 he referred to women’s tennis as inferior and said that at the age of 55 he could still beat any woman.

He was wrong.

On This Day in History, Shit Went Down: September 20, 1973:

Riggs challenged Billie Jean King and she told him to piss off.  So, he then went after Margaret Court, a 30-year-old about to win her seventh ranking as World No. 1.  She said yes.  And got her ass kicked in the match. (Don’t feel bad for Margaret; she’s a horrible bigot.)  

At the time of the match it got little attention, but the victory put Riggs on the cover of TIME and Sports Illustrated. Riggs was magnanimous in his victory. Ha! JK. He was a total dick about it.

He dragged female tennis players all the more. King was all fuck this guy and then accepted his challenge, and the match became a major media event. It was dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes,” and was held in the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973. It was watched by 90 million people worldwide as the pair battled for a purse worth over half a million dollars today. Over 30,000 were in attendance; it remains the largest audience to attend a tennis match in U.S. history.

The match was theatre. King, whose tennis record was almost as impressive as Court’s, arrived like Cleopatra in a litter carried by shirtless buff dudes. Riggs arrived via a rickshaw pulled by models. King gave Riggs a gift of a piglet as a statement about him being a “chauvinist pig.” Riggs returned the insult with a gift of a “Sugar Daddy” lollipop.

King was behind at first, but she had learned from watching Court play him and adapted her game. She felt she “had to win” to defend women’s tennis, saying “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win.” Rather than play her usual aggressive game, she beat him at his own defensive style, making him run back and forth across the court.

And yeah, she beat his ass.

Afterward, because sexist douches gonna douche, there were allegations Riggs threw the match because he bet against himself and needed the money. Those stories were unsubstantiated. Riggs’s own son refuted the allegations saying his dad was ashamed and depressed for several months after losing to King.


Volumes I and II of ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY SH!T WENT DOWN at JamesFell.com/books.