In April of 1995, a former student of the legendary Korean born Rikidozan…Antonio Inoki…had a plan to go over to the Communist nation of North Korea and hold a pro wrestling event in an attempt to garner peace between North Korea, Japan and the United States of America. This isn’t the first time Inoki used wrestling as a means of diplomacy….he also used his wrestling connections to go over to Baghdad, Iraq, Moscow, Russia and Peking, China. Inoki always believed that pro wrestling could unite people of different beliefs and cultures.
Inoki enlisted talent from his New Japan promotion and also help from billionaire media mogul Ted Turner and his wrestling company WCW. The two organizations would do a cross promotion show at May Day Stadium in the city of Pyongyang at the International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. The “festival” to the North Koreans was nothing more than a big “communism is great” event. Originally, Ted Turner and former President Jimmy Carter were going to make the trip…but backed out….Ric Flair, Muhammad Ali and some select WCW and New Japan talent were the “lucky” ones to go.
When all the wrestlers arrived in North Korea, they were all immediately separated from one another and put in pairs of two. Each duo were then assigned a chaperone or more bluntly put a member of the military personnel to keep tabs on what the wrestlers, announcers, backstage crew etc..were up to at all times. The chaperone would never leave the WCW or New Japan personalities sides…ever. If someone were to do something questionable or act a certain way, they were interrogated almost immediately.
One morning, Eric Bischoff went out for a jog and left behind his chaperone…when he returned to the hotel…he was questioned for hours and reprimanded for his disobedience. Other than being held in their hotels like prisoners and forced to take mandatory tours of some of North Korea’s sites…the talent were treated like kings…they ate 5 course meals…drank to their hearts content and honored with choirs singing to them.
Scott Norton was also detained for hours after he made a phone call home telling his family how horrible the country was and how miserable he was there. The phone call was cut off and he was essentially arrested.
Another incident involved Ric Flair and boxing legend Muhammad Ali at a dinner with North Korean dignitaries. During the dinner, some of the North Koreans were rambling about their country’s superiority over the rest of the world. Muhammad Ali then blurted out…”No wonder we hate these motherfuckers!” Ric Flair was shocked and scared that Ali said what he said…but pretty much felt the same way. He just wouldn’t have done it then and there.
The two day event seemed liked a huge success. Dancers, choirs, musicians all celebrating inside a filled to capacity May Day Stadium. The first day of the festival garnered a reported 150,000 people…the second day was even bigger with a reported 190,000 people. To put that attendance figure in perspective, Wrestlemania 3 had a reported 93,000 in attendance. The North Korean event doubled that figure. Some have argued that the two day festival averaged about 160,000 each night….either way though…it isn’t all that important considering the circumstances of their attendance.
Flair, Bischoff and others have said the reason so many people were in attendance wasn’t because they were wrestling fans, being proud North Koreans or because they even wanted to be there. The real reason is those “fans” had no choice. They were forced in and ordered to cheer and pay attention. There were people from South Korea who made the trip in hopes to reunite with loved ones…but they too were held in May Day Stadium like common prisoners. This was the true meaning of a captive audience.
The Steiner brothers, Chris Benoit, 2 Cold Scorpio, Road Warrior Hawk, Bull Nakano, Masahiro Chono and a few others wrestled in matches…but the marquee match was Ric Flair against Antonio Inoki. Inoki would defeat Flair with an enzuiguri kick in a little less than 15 minutes. After the match, both Inoki and Flair were given vases as a thank you. It was the only item Flair had from his historic trip because he wasn’t allowed to take pictures or buy souvenirs.
The WCW and New Japan crews were scheduled to leave right after the event ended…but suspiciously were held for another three days for apparently no reason. When it was finally time to board their plane and leave the country…North Korean officials ordered Flair to give a speech about the greatness of North Korea and the country’s great global powers. Flair refused to give that speech, instead commended the North Koreans great hospitality and quickly flew off to Japan where his family was waiting for him.