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08/27/2013 11:25 pm ET

Battle Of The Sexes Rigged? Billie Jean King Denies Story That Bobby Riggs Threw Famous Match (VIDEOS)

One of the most of the iconic sporting events in tennis history may not have been what it seemed. Nearly 40 years after Billie Jean King bested Bobby Riggs in the iconic "Battle Of The Sexes" at the Astrodome, a man has come forward to tell ESPN's "Outside The Lines" that the tennis match was rigged.

Hal Shaw told Don Van Natta of ESPN that Riggs threw the match to pay off gambling debts owed to mobsters. According to Shaw, he learned of the plot while working late into the night at the pro shop of the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Fla., several months before Riggs faced King in 1973. Shaw claimed to have overheard two prominent mobsters and a mob lawyer discussing the scheme and Riggs' debts. At age 79, Shaw has told this story for the first time.

CLICK HERE for full ESPN story

King spoke with Van Natta for his ESPN piece but she also issued a statement of her own refuting Shaw's claim. King's statement came on the opening day of the 2013 U.S. Open -- which is played at the Bille Jean King National Tennis Center.

"This story is just ridiculous. I was on the court with Bobby and I know he was not tanking the match. I could see in his eyes and body language he wanted to win. People need to accept he had a bad day at the office -- just as Margaret Court did when she played Bobby. It was 40 years ago and I won the match and I am 100% sure Bobby wanted to win as badly as I did. Those who bet against me lost money but the result is the same today as it was 40 years ago."

Despite King's belief that Shaw's allegation is "ridiculous," Van Natta told ABC News that he was confident in the credibility of his source.

“I looked in his eyes, I heard him tell the story multiple times, the details were always the same,” Van Natta told ABC News. “I was not going to move forward with this story unless I believed him to be someone who was absolutely credible.”

WATCH ABC NEWS VIDEO ABOVE

With all the pomp and circumstance befitting a television spectacle narrated by Howard Cosell, King and Riggs faced off in Houston on Sept. 20, 1973 before a massive crowd. She was 29 and just a few months removed from sweeping the women's singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon. A three-time grand slam winner during his playing career, the bombastic Riggs was retired at age 55 when he challenged active women's stars Margaret Court and King to exhibition matches in 1973. After routing Court in May in a match dubbed the "Mother's Day Ms. Match" by Sports Illustrated, Riggs' chauvinistic act went into overdrive to promote the battle with King. With a sizable audience watching in person and on television, an eager and athletic King romped to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory over a sluggish and sloppy Riggs in September.

But what if it was rigged?

"The sadness this time is that Billie Jean's win had been the blue-ribbon moment for women's sports. Schlocky and contrived as the event was -- made for television, announced by Howard Cosell (!!!) and presented like some Christians vs. the Lions spectacle -- the result resonated with little girls and big girls everywhere, gave them a boost in self-respect, implied a future without ceilings or boundaries," wrote Leigh Montville in a piece Sports On Earth that considered the ESPN report and the implications of Shaw's claim. "A lot of good things came from the bad thing that Bobby Riggs did."

WATCH: ESPN's "OTL" Segment On Riggs' Possible Fix

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