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Historically, you could argue this is one of the most significant wrestling shows to ever take place. Sure, the only people there under their own free will were the wrestlers. And yes, WCW’s claim to the assist on this show is flimsy at best, and non-existent at worst. But while this show can live in isolation, you cannot ignore the most attended single night wrestling show in history (190,000 people) nor the only ever occasion that Ric Flair wrestled Antonio Inoki.
The show was months in the making, ordered (no surprise) by the North Korean government, the show was more political than anything else. The fact that the tourists bought along with them Mohammed Ali, even better. This was a New Japan show – the wrestlers you’ll recognise below (with the exception of Flair and just about Road Warrior Hawk) were all in place representing the Japanese promotion.
In reality WCW had two people on the tour. Flair, who was only asked to do the tour after Hulk Hogan turned it down. Bischoff in the SI article later said Hogan would’ve more likely “rowed a boat to Pluto” than gone to Korea. And Bischoff himself, who was there on a political trip of his own, forging the links between WCW and Japan that would enable a smooth transition of talent as WCW would eventually expand into 1996.
The show itself was held at the 1st Of May Stadium in Pyongyang across two nights. The first was attended by 150,000 people, eclipsed preposterously by the 190,000 crowd that “turned up” on the second evening. During the PPV we see a short clip of the opening ceremony, a ridiculousness of rehersal and timing from the acrobats on display and those in the crowd. Art, imitating life, it seems.
WCW pieced together a two hour edit of this show with matches selected from both evenings. That the show was sent to the States with Japanese commentary, so in quelling that they also strangled the life out of the already quiet crowd. Eric Bischoff, Mike Tenay and Kazuo Ishikawa have the call. The show aired early August, having been filmed at the end of April.
“Wild Pegasus” Chris Benoit vs Too Cold Scorpio
Two names you’ll recognise, although neither Tenay nor Bischoff mention either of these two having a prior history in WCW. This match, like all matches on the card, has to be weighed off against the fact that members of the crowd will either be wowed by everything you do, or none of it. That being said, Benoit and Scorpio worked hard in the time they were allotted. Scorpio hits a moonsault, followed by a superkick. He then goes for a tombstone piledriver but Benoit reverses it into his own before hitting a top rope diving headbutt for the win. Decent stuff.
Yuji Nagata vs Tokimistu Ishizawa
Take two guys with similar builds and similar looks – put them both in black trunks and hope the viewing audience can tell the difference? Yep, that was the plan here. Some technical action early on, Ishizawa hits some uppercuts in the corner, Nagata misses a jumping-back-leg-side-kick (or an enziguri, if your name isn’t Eric Bischoff). Nagata then locks in a crossface and that’s enough for the win.
Masahiro Chono and Hiro Saito vs El Samruai and Tadao Yasuda
Faces and heels – you’d be forgiven for forgetting them before this match. All four guys worked hard, we got some nice comedy “Sumo slaps” from Yasuda, El Samurai hits a diving headbutt but unlike Benoit cannot get the win. Eventually Chono hits a flying shoulder tackle from the top rope and that’s enough to win it.
Manami Toyota and Mariko Yoshida vs Bull Nakano and Akira Hokuto
Bull Nakano will not be a completely new name to those who followed the WWF in 1994. She’s here and she’s still got the big snowplow of spiked up blue hair on her forehead. All four women are big and dressed in bright and relatively skimpy outfits – which must have been a massive culture shock for the fans in attendance. This match was excellent, 7-8 minutes of fast paced action which showcased probably just the beginning of the work rate of all four of them. Toyota hits a springboard splash to the outside, then an moonsault on Hokuto in the ring. Nakano hits a top rope leg drop for the win.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship Match – Shinya Hashimoto vs Scott Norton
Confession – I hadn’t seen Scott Norton before seeing this match – so in many ways I was like the Korean crowd… he’s some specimen physically, a beer barrel of muscle on his chest. I digress. This was an attempt at something different, with both guys working a slow methodical pace – but it never really stepped up a gear and despite going to a 20 minute draw wouldn’t have been any worse off going ten or 15. One of those matches that suffered greatly by going to a draw, as it had no closing sequence to speak of either.
Tasuo Yasuda vs Road Warrior Hawk
It is always worth remembering about this show that as it ran over two nights, the two hour edit that made the PPV was only a selection of the overall matches on the shows, and those who’ve seen fuller edits of the two nights were certainly quick to point out that there we strong matches left off. This match was brief, and it included Road Warrior Hawk (which may have been some name value for WCW to their audience) but it was otherwise quite forgettable. Hawk no-sells a butterfly suplex before hitting a clothesline off the top.
The Steiner Brothers vs Hiroshi Hase and Kensuki Sasaki
A bit of background on the Steiner brothers – in between the time this show was filmed and WCW taped their commentary and air the show, the Steiners had been in negotiations with WCW and hadn’t come to an agreement. Eric Bischoff responded to this by generally throwing both of them under a bus, preposterously claiming that they wouldn’t be able to compete with tag team giants like The Nasty Boys and Bunkhouse Buck and Dirty Dick Slater. Anyway… as a huge fan of the Steiner brothers this was my favourite match of the evening. Hase and Sesaki acted as a very nice foil for the pair. The only downer was the camera (on a taped show) panning away to a wide shot during the Steiner Screwdriver finish. Poor.
Ric Flair vs Antonio Inoki
Yes, this is genuinely the only time these two ever faced each other. As I mentioned earlier, this is the kind of show where the crowd will either be wowed by everything or nothing – so comparing this match against some of Flair’s other efforts may not come off unfavourably. That being said this was an excellent main event for this show. Flair did a great job getting some life out of the crowd and Inoki, even at 52-years-old, looked like a larger than life hero to the crowd and it showed. Inoki hits a lovely cartwheel kick, before swiftly dropping a knee from the second rope and finishes it with an enziguri.
Score Rating: 5/10
Go Back And Watch: One of the most difficult “go back and watch” sections I’ll write. You won’t see enough of North Korea in this show to be able to justify it on historical significance grounds, and the action wasn’t good enough to make it must see in that regard either. That being said – as it’s the only time Flair and Inoki meet, I’d say go with that.