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TORCH #333: COVER STORY
HEADLINE: Over 150,000 see Inoki vs. Flair in N. Korea
SUBHEADLINE: Documented all-time attendance record shattered twice, Inoki beats Flair in top match
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
In what has been reported as a "strange attempt to win world respect," North Korea held a two day "Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace in North Korea" at Mayday Stadium featuring pro wrestling as the feature attraction both nights. Both nights drew crowds in the 150,000-160,000 range which shatters all documented pro wrestling attendance records. The controversial Antonio Inoki, head of New Japan Pro Wrestling, led the promoting effort in what turned out to be the biggest weekend in the history of pro wrestling worldwide.
The 51-year-old Inoki headlined the Apr. 29 card and defeated the 46-year-old Ric Flair in the main event at 14:52. The match opened with Flair armlock whipping Inoki. Flair then took Inoki to the mat with a flying headscissors. Flair then armlocked Inoki, who eventually broke free. Both men faced off again and showed off some amateur style mat wrestling. "Inoki, Inoki" chants filled the stadium. (Inoki was the protege of Japan's biggest all-time wrestling star, Rikidozan, who was born in North Korea.) Flair gave Inoki the brainbuster suplex and threw him down for a near fall.
Flair then began to ready Inoki for the figure-four leglock, dropping down on Inoki's leg and landing a kneedrop. Flair then chopped Inoki and locked on his figure-four leglock. Inoki eventually escaped the leglock by pulling off Flair's leg. Flair went for the figure-four again, but Inoki small-packaged him for a two count.
They rose and began exchanging punches. Inoki whipped Flair into the corner and Flair flipped over the top rope to the floor. Flair ran back into the ring and tried a flying kneedrop, but Inoki caught his knee and threw Flair to the mat. Inoki dropkicked Flair and went for the pin. Flair kicked out.
They punched each other more. Flair went on offense and backdropped Inoki and scored another near fall. Flair bodyslammed Inoki and went for a flying head scissors, but Inoki reversed it and went into a rolling reverse kneedrop. Inoki climbed to the top rope and went for the kneedrop and then hit the enzuigiri for the pinfall.
Scenes of the main event and other bouts aired on CNN Headlines News. Wire service stories ran worldwide which included estimates of the second day attendance for Flair-Inoki at 190,000, although other sources have indicated 160,000 would be a fairer estimate.
The Apr. 29 card more than doubles the previous worldwide attendance record of 78,000 ($1.6 million) for Wrestlemania III at the SilverDome in Pontiac, Mich. for Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. With the Festival tickets priced between $25 and $210, the gate obliterates the $1.6 million gate for Wrestlemania III as the Festival gate did surpass $5 million and may have surpassed $10 million depending on how many of each price range ($25, $155, and $210) were sold. An average North Korean earns an equivalent of $50 a month, so $210 tickets are the equivalent of thousands of dollars for an average U.S. wage earner.
Muhammed Ali was present which gave the event an aura of importance and prestige given his worldwide reputation. Also part of the Festival was an exhibition featuring tens of thousands of children honoring the Kim II Sung dynasty by performing a synchronized mass dance, acrobatics, and martial arts on the soccer field. In a segment on national defense, children held up colored cards depicting fighter planes and ballistic missiles and the slogan in huge letters, "Make the people the rifles and bombs for Gen. Kim Jong II... Pyongyang is the center of the international socialist movement. The DPRK is the rampart and the banner of socialism that will make the whole world independent and free from domination and subjugation. Socialism is a science that cannot be defeated."
A wire story that ran in the Japan Times the next day quoted a North Korean travel guide. "There are so many distorted (notions) about our country," he said. "We hope that through this visit you will be able to see the real truth of our country and clear up so many misunderstandings."
The international wire service reports talked about the wrestling bouts as "choreographed" and "theatrical."
The politics of North Korea led to strange dilemmas for some fans as neither Japan nor the U.S. are looked upon as allies so, with the exception of Inoki (because of his Rikidozan connection), many of the Japanese wrestlers got mixed reactions when facing U.S. wrestlers.
The full results of Apr. 29 are as follows: Akira Hokuto pinned Bull Nakano to earn a title shot at Manami Toyota, Black Cat beat El Samurai, Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) pinned Too Cold Scorpio, Masa Chono & Scott Norton beat Takayuki Iizuka & Akira Nogami, Hawk Warrior beat Tadao Yasuda, and Rick & Scott Steiner beat Kensuke Sasaki & Hiroshi Hase.
Apr. 28 full-results: Yuji Nagata beat Tokimitsu Ishizawa, Bull Nakano & Akira Hokuto beat Mariko Yoshida & Manami Toyota, Hiroshi Hase pinned Wild Pegasus, Hiro Saito & Masa Chono beat El Samurai & Tadao Yasuda, Scorpio beat Shinichio Otani when the referee stopped the bout due to Otani's broken nose, Kensuke Sasaki pinned Masa Saito, and Shinya Hashimoto fought Scott Norton to a time-limit draw. The North Korean fans were said to be amazed at the size of Hashimoto and Norton. Hashimoto and Norton shook hands afterward.
New Japan barely has a chance to catch its breath before running its second biggest event of the year in Japan on May 3 at the Fukuoka Dome with an 80,000 capacity. Keiji Muto is expected to capture the IWGP Hvt. Title from Shinya Hashimoto in one of the top matches on the card. However, because Weekly Pro in Japan reported that WCW released a statement saying Muta would be "defending the IWGP Title" against Paul Orndorff at Slamboree, that finish could be changed by booker Riki Choshu.
Also on the card: Rick & Scott Steiner vs. Hawk Warrior & Scott Norton (replacing the originally scheduled Animal), Junji Hirata vs. Hiro Saito, El Samurai & Takayuki Iizuka vs. Norio Honaga & Akira Nogami, Manabu Nakanishi vs. Yuji Nagata, Antonio Inoki & Koji Kitao vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Riki Choshu, Terry Funk (former All Japan legend, current IWA star, first-ever appearance on New Japan card) & Shiro Koshinaka vs. Masa Chono & Hiromichi Fuyuki, Sabu vs. Koji Kanemoto for the Jr. Hvt. Title, Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Kensuke Sasaki, and Ric Flair vs. Hiroshi Hase in Flair's best (and perhaps last) opportunity at contending for "Match of the Year (Japan)" honors this year.
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He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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