On Sept. 20, 1973, more than 50 million Americans tuned in to watch a tennis match. It wasn't the finals of Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. It was a contest between one of the greatest female tennis players of her time, 29-year-old Billie Jean King, and a 55-year-old blowhard and former tennis great named Bobby Riggs [source: Van Natta, Jr.].
Dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes," the circus-like tennis match was shamelessly promoted by Riggs as definitive proof that men were better at sports than women, at any age and at any level of play.
The King match was actually the second "Battle of the Sexes." Four months earlier, Riggs had roundly defeated the No. 1 female tennis player in world, Margaret Court [source: Roberts]. But unlike Court, who underestimated the political consequences of the match, King vowed to crush Riggs and his small-minded chauvinism once and for all.
And that's exactly what she did, thoroughly demoralizing Riggs in three straight sets. Riggs, who had played so strategically during his match with Court, lobbed shot after shot directly into King's red zone. It was almost as if he had given up.
Or was that his plan all along?
According to a revelatory 2013 article by ESPN's "Outside the Lines," Riggs masterminded the Battle of the Sexes — and intentionally threw it — to free himself from gambling debts. Indebted to the mob for $100,000, Riggs promised a Vegas-quality spectacle that would earn his Mafia creditors millions by betting against him [source: Van Natta, Jr.]. Although he was a serious gambler, Riggs denied throwing the match.