Battle of the Sexes 50 Years Ago: Did Bobby Riggs Throw His Match vs. Billie Jean King?

Billie Jean King, Bobby Riggs
Copyright © Everett Collection / Everett Collection

In an exhibition tennis match billed as “Battle of the Sexes II,” 29-year-old Billie Jean King, five-time Wimbledon champion, faced 55-year-old Bobby Riggs, who hit his peak playing days in the 1930s and ’40s.

The event took place on September 20, 1973, at the Astrodome in Houston. King handily beat Riggs 6–4, 6–3, 6–3 in a match that was watched on TV by about 50 million Americans and remains one of the most famous tennis matches of all time.

Riggs defeated Margaret Court 6-2, 6-1 in the “Mother’s Day Massacre” four months earlier, but his match with King had much bigger stakes.

“I knew I had to win. I don’t know how to explain it. I just had to win this match,” King said in 2013. “It was a turning point. It was a turning point. It was the moment of truth. I knew it. I felt it. I knew this was … we’re going to have more focus on this moment than I was ever going to have the rest of my life, and that it mattered what I did. And that’s how I felt about it.”

It was definitely a watershed moment for female athletes, even if the Battle of the Sexes was more circus and spectacle than sport. Riggs followed up his pro tennis career by being a gambler and a hustler, and was known to do anything for a buck. An ESPN report in 2013 tied Riggs to members of the mob who may have influenced him to take the fall.

King maintains that Riggs was not tanking the match and she could tell he was giving his best effort to win. In the years following the match, Riggs always gave credit to King for playing the game of her life.

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