Archie Moore was promoting fights like this years before Ali came along. He put up “Wanted” pictures with Marciano’s face on them and kept declaring publicly that Rocky was afraid of him.
Even before that, Jack Johnson chased one opponent (I think Jim Jeffries but don’t quote me on that) literally all over the world to bait and provoke him into a title shot.
But as far as staging a live television brawl to promote a fight, you’re right that Ali did it first. BUT Ali was playing but Joe was serious. Joe said he felt real threatened when Rahman joined Ali in hanging up on him, so Joe got even angrier.
Oh, I don’t think anyone staged the Lewis-Tyson press conference brawl but Tyson. In a documentary, his manager said he was unhappy about it, and no way would Lewis agree to let Tyson bite his leg like that. Tyson was acting like an insane maniac to drum up fear in Lewis. I think to a small degree, it worked. Lewis wouldn’t be human if he weren’t the least bit concerned.
It was staged. They had to stir interest in the fight. Lennox lacked charisma as a heavyweight champion and Rahman came from obscurity to suddenly win the title. Not many people knew him, so they had to do what they had to do to promote the fight.