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A Study in Professional Wrestling Greatness: Inoki vs. Vader 1/4/96

posted by Matthew on 4/02/02

First of all, I’ve posted my complete plans for articles I will be writing this summer, so if you are somehow involved in print media one way or the other and would consider articles from interviews Oasis to Iron Chefs to martial artists to The Clash to lost geniuses, Clink This Link.

Now, before I start today’s article, let me share part of my thinking. I was originally going to start things off with the normal couple of paragraphs that have become so perfunctory with wrestling fans talking to possible non-wrestling fans: “yes I know it’s fake, but then again so is everything else on TV”, “Wrestling can be a very rewarding form of entertainment, far above the neanderthal image it has” and the rest of that bollocks. I’ll just take it for granted that everyone reading this is pretty clear that professional wrestling is a perfectly viable form of entertainment than can induce quite ecstatic highs when done properly.

That said, I will today examine one of the great matches in professional wrestling history, and, more importantly, one of the most exhilarating exhibitions of human insanity in the history of mankind. The place: the sold-out Tokyo Dome, in front of over 60,000 fans. The time: January 4th, 1996. The participants: fifty-something multi-millionaire, Senator, Japanese pro wrestling legend Antonio Inoki and 6'5, 456 pound Leon White, known as Big Van Vader.

Antonio Inoki

The Vince McMahon of Japanese Professional Wrestling

Antonio Inoki is a national legend in Japan on the level of Michael Jordan or Joe Montana in America. During the 70's, he started New Japan Pro Wrestling and, for the next two decades, he made himself the top star, defeating basically everybody else in Japan and people from all around the world. Due to his efforts and that of contemporary Shohei Baba, professional wrestling was taken seriously again (it had gone out of style after the death of top star Rikidozan in the 60's) and became a major business in Japan.

Ali vs. Inoki

What’s Muhammad Ali’s favorite dance? The jitterbug. Oh, calm down; Muhammad Ali has a fucking sense of humor. We laugh so we can HEAL :-)

One of the ways Inoki got professional wrestling taken seriously was that he would fight the world’s top martial artists and defeat them, showing the Japanese people the power of puroresu ‘Fighting Spirit.’ Of course, almost all of these fights were fixed, and Inoki would win with professional wrestling moves. However, his one fight that we are sure was legit just happened to be huge: Antonio Inoki vs. Muhammad Ali.

Well, as anyone familiar with the martial arts knows, a wrestler will beat a boxer 9 out of 10 times because a wrestler can take a boxer to the ground where he’s useless. Ali, well aware of this, agreed to fight Inoki as long as Inoki was barred from any type of grappling. In other words, Ali expected Inoki to stand and box with him. Well, Inoki’s not that stupid, so he actually came up with a plan...

Antonio Inoki vs. Ali

The most hilarious fight ever

Instead of standing and fighting with Ali, Inoki decided the way to go would be to lay on the fucking ground the entire fight and just kick Ali in the legs repeatedly. Aired worldwide on closed circuit (like PPV, only in a big arena), millions saw Antonio Inoki fight the most pussified fight in human history, going a full 15 rounds of dead-legging Muhammad Ali. It ended in a draw. People around the world came to different conclusions: outside of Japan, everyone thought Inoki was a pussy; in Japan, the fans viewed him as a legend for outsmarting Ali and going the full 15 rounds under unfair rules. The truth lie somewhere in between, but Inoki’s legend in Japan was made...and reaffirmed on a weekly basis as he booked himself defeating most everyone else on the planet for the next decade and a half. Finally, however, it had to come to an end, so, while in his mid-fifties, Inoki went on a retirement tour.

The Secret Weapon: The Chin

Like one of his testicles got wrong directions

Before I move on to his opponent, let me just cover one last thing about Antonio Inoki: his chin of doom. Inoki’s chin must be where he stores all of his “fighting spirit” because that bastard is huge, and it’s so huge that you can tell he has trouble talking to due to its Hapsburg-level proportions (Dennis Miller can kiss my obscure historical reference ass). It’s so huge that, if you search “Inoki” into an image search engine, you’ll usually get at least three or four pics of random Japanese jackasses doing the “Look, I have a big fuck-off chin face.” For example:

Or even

I am completely speechless

The Opposition: Big Van Vader

Who says pro wrestling has no credibility?

Vader was imported from America especially for the occasion of Inoki’s retirement tour. During one of Vader’s first visits to Japan, around 1989, Vader defeated Inoki in something like a minute. This was to prove Vader was a true monster, as he overran the biggest legend in Japanese wrestling, and Inoki benefitted because he made lots of money off of Vader’s newfound credibility. Also, since Vader was such an animal, Inoki didn’t lose any credibility with his fans.

Not exactly a bodybuilder, but would you want to fight him?

So, weighing in at around “a whole fucking lot,” Vader was again to the play the huge, foreign monster to Inoki’s 53-year-old Japanese legend. On a deeper level, Vader was also expected to ‘carry’ (wrestling lingo for when a good wrestler does most of the work in a match for a less skilled opponent) Inoki to a good match despite Inoki’s age, rust, and generally selfish tendencies, and, on top of all that, make it look CREDIBLE despite the fact that he outweighted Inoki by around 200 pounds and was much younger. Vader, indeed, took up this challenge with gusto. His solution was simple yet ingenious: beat the everliving fuck out of 53-year-old legend.

Vader doing what he does best

Now, most of you are thinking about the badly pulled or faked punches you may have seen from some American wrestling you’ve watched. Well, you’d be wrong...very wrong. Vader is notorious for being a “stiff worker”, in other words, someone who rather beat the fuck out of somebody and have it look good rather than fake things for his opponent’s well-being. This match would possibly be Vader’s biggest beating ever, and he would do it against a legend, national politician, multi-millionaire business leader, and all-round old guy.

The match starts off well enough: Vader comes out with a huge metallic mask, stands in the ring, and smoke starts shooting out of the lighting system of the Tokyo Dome. Then, as the crowd chants “Inoki! Inoki!” a harp player in a Cinderella dress starts playing a classical version of Inoki’s theme. After that soft interlude, Inoki’s real music, the cheesy Brazilian pop diddy with blaring horns, hits and the crowd goes, well, apeshit, screaming “Inoki! Bom-Ba-Ye!” Which reminds me...

The Average Inoki Fan

"Inoki! Bom-Ba-Ye! Inoki! Bom-Ba-Ye!"

Whenever Antonio Inoki enters an arena, it is a site to behold. Since Inoki has been around since the mid-60's, most of his biggest fans consist of people well into their middle age, the low-ranking Japanese businessmen and the know, the guys who are so reserved, staid, and boring. Well, when those Brazilian horns blast over the speakers, those boring, middle-aged fans become Beavis after 30 coffees, flailing their arms, standing on their seats, and jumping like they were at Beatles’ Shea Stadium concert. Seriously, I cannot put into words how absolutely batshit these average Japanese citizens go when they get to see some Inoki.

Now, onto the match. Right before the referee calls for the bell to be rung to start the contest, he traditionally frisks both wrestlers to make sure they don’t have any weapons. The referee frisks Vader and begins to pat Inoki down. Vader, however, decides not to wait and just walks up and, caught by an absolutely perfect close-up shot, nonchalantly punches Inoki full force right in the face. I’m not talking some half-assed wrestling strike, either. It was a full-fledged smack in the face, Inoki going down to the mat immediately. The match hasn’t even officially begun, and it’s already kicking ass.

Inoki rolls out of the ring to gather his wits, and as he starts to realize what just happened, he gets really pissed off. Jumping back in the ring, he gives Vader a sarcastic standing ovation and mouths the word “fucker.” Inoki starts throwing his own punches, staggering Vader for a little bit, but then Vader just stops and punches him straight in the fucking face again. Inoki, once again, falls down. Then, taunting Inoki, Vader throws him outside of the ring and onto the concrete. Picking Inoki back up, Vader slams him on a table, and, in another moment of greatness, picks up the table and starts beating Inoki with it. Imagine it: a 400+ pound guy beating up an old guy with a huge wooden table. You know you love it.

Back in the ring, Vader applies a waist lock (imagine giving someone the Heimlich maneuver, only around the waist). Inoki fights him for a second, but then, in one of the coolest moments in professional wrestling history, Vader just dead-lifts Inoki and launches him over his head, causing Inoki to land, from about a five foot height, right on his head. It is literally one of the most insane things you will ever see in your entire life. It’s a shame that the only picture I could find is really small and not all that indicative of the massive quality of the German Suplex of Doom, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

Imagine this in motion, only faster and higher, and then imagine Inoki BOUNCING OFF HIS OWN NECK when he lands

Now, Inoki, as he slowly gets up, obviously has a concussion, but, even more importantly, the German suplex completely messed up his hair, giving him a weird Salvador-Dali-Does-Elvis hairdo that he keeps for the rest of the fight.

The match continues, Inoki making a token comeback and throwing Vader to the outside. Inoki grabs a chair (it’s okay to cheat in this situation because of the odds) and just wails on Vader some, causing Vader to start bleeding from the eye.

Inoki’s cheating only serves to piss Vader off some more, so Vader gets back in the ring and starts beating the crap out of Inoki again with jabs, chokes, and body slams. Finally, Vader decides to kill Inoki, and goes up to the second rope. Then, with a little help from the top rope, Vader drops all of his 400+ pounds right on Inoki. It only gets a two count. Unperturbed, Vader climbs up to the top rope and does a 400+ pound backflip onto Inoki. It almost gets a three count.

Vader gets pissed and throws Inoki in a corner. Pooling up his energy, Vader charges Inoki and crushes him with his weight against the ringpost. However, when he tries to do it again, Inoki simply moves out of the way and bodyslams (quite a sight) Vader. Quickly grabbing an arm, Inoki applies a cross-armbreaker hold and starts hyper-extending Vader’s arm. In danger of having his arm broken, Vader submits. Of course, the Japanese crowd goes absolutely insane, with a special shot of one well-dressed businessman in a suite doing an uncontrolled dance with phantom maracas. It’s crazy Japanese fun for the entire family.

Well, this is one of the most entertaining wrestling matches of all time, and it generally gets around 4 or 4 1/4 stars out of 5 stars by most wrestling experts. Vader did the impossible, carrying the over-the-hill, limited Inoki to a great match. That said, a lot of credit should be given to Inoki who, while he didn’t do anything great on offense, took the beating of a lifetime. All round, it was a nonstop asskicking of the highest level and great entertainment.

I hope I was able to impart some of the magic for you non-wrestling fans out there. It’s good stuff :). Check out if you’re in a position that matters at a magazine, newspaper or anything else and are looking for stories.




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