How North Korea Held the Greatest Pro Wrestling Event in History

– [Narrator] I’m Kento Bento. – [Kento] This video is
made possible by Dashlane. Download Dashlane for a free 30-day trial if you never want to
forget another password again, at the link in the description. Pyongyang, North Korea, 1995. The lone American made his
way down a long, dingy hallway, past several
North Korean officials. He was nervous, afraid
of what was to come, not just ’cause of the constant
surveillance he was under, but the state of the entire country. You see, North Korea at that very moment
was in the midst of a devastating famine, with hundreds and
thousands of its citizens suffering and dying from
starvation and illnesses. He didn’t know what to expect, but he was there for a reason, and he had a job to do. At the entrance, he got his cue, and with one final breath, he stepped out, into what was a sea of humanity. Now this wasn’t just any crowd. This was 190,000 North Koreans who
were conditioned to see Americans as evil, who did not know pro wrestling was staged, that it was predetermined
and choreographed. And here was a man, a
blond-haired American man, who embodied everything they
were legitimately told to hate. This man, you may have heard of, was the legendary Ric Flair, one of the greatest American
professional wrestlers of all time. And at this moment, he was wondering
what he had gotten himself into. Now this happened in April 1995, but the events that led to this
actually started 11 months earlier. Tokyo, Japan, 1994, over a
thousand kilometers away, a Japanese politician was in his office
contemplating his uncertain future. This politician was in
the midst of a major scandal, involving his alleged connection
to the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. And this seriously threatened his upcoming
re-election to the House of Councillors, Japan’s equivalent to the US Senate. Now, aside from being a politician, he was also one of the most popular
Japanese wrestlers of all time, because this man, with the granite chin,
was the renowned Antonio Inoki. Initially rising to fame as the protege
of the great 1950s legend Rikidozan, the first real megastar
of Japanese pro wrestling, he eventually branched out,
building a legacy of his own later parlaying his in-ring success
and popularity to the world of politics. However, with his political
career now in limbo, he was thinking of leveraging that past to save his future. Now over in the Hermit Kingdom, an incident was taking
place, something unthinkable. The Great Leader, the Eternal President, the founder of North Korea,
Kim Il-sung, had collapsed. He was having a heart attack. A team of North Korea’s best doctors
were flown in to save him. They worked on him for hours, but alas, on the afternoon of July 8th, 1994, Kim Il-sung died. To North Koreans, this
was a man who saved Korea, who single-handedly defeated the
evil Japanese to liberate the nation, who fought off and vanquished the Imperialist Americans
to win the Korean War, and those were some mighty shoes to fill. His son, Kim Jong-il, now left suddenly
with an entire nation to rule, and one under immense
turmoil, felt this pressure, as all eyes were on him. Meanwhile, in the US, there was one
company that was reigning supreme as the world’s premier
wrestling brand, the Connecticut-based World
Wrestling Federation, or WWF, today known as the WWE. Now at the time, their biggest competitor was the Georgia-based World
Championship Wrestling, or WCW, who was constantly
trying to play catch-up. This frustrated the WCW
president, Eric Bischoff, who wanted nothing more
than to beat his rival. One night, Bischoff received a call
from an old Japanese acquaintance. It was the wrestler-turned-politician,
Antonio Inoki. Inoki had finally figured out
how to save his political career, and it, perhaps strangely, involved holding the
greatest pro wrestling event the world had ever seen. Inoki himself owned a successful
wrestling company in Tokyo, called New Japan
Pro Wrestling, NJPW, and in a collaborative
effort with Bischoff’s WCW, wanted to put on a
pay-per-view extravaganza, with marquee names from
both sides of the Pacific. The publicity would be huge. Bischoff listened intently as
Inoki revealed the one caveat, the event would be
held in North Korea, the totalitarian, isolationist state. Now this in itself would be controversial, but NJPW was a Japanese company, and WCW was an American company, two countries considered the
greatest of enemies to North Korea. Despite this, Inoki was willing, hoping the publicity and goodwill gleaned from this so-called
world peace event, as he dubbed it, would boost
his chances at re-election, as well as help put WCW on the map. Or at least that was
his pitch to Bischoff. Bischoff didn’t actually
need much convincing though, because he saw this as
a phenomenal opportunity to gain mainstream attention. Now, of course, all this
really amounts to nothing if North Korea didn’t actually
agree to hold the event and for such an
isolationist country, intent on keeping outsiders away, this just wasn’t going to happen, barring of course some unprecedented event that would change the
course of North Korea. Which it did. The Supreme Leader had died, and his son Kim Jong-il was now ruler, which meant he needed to make a statement. He needed to showcase his
new-found power and influence to the world,
and to his own people. He needed to prove his worth and
establish a cult of personality he felt was vital for political control,
something he learned from dad. And odd as it may seem to us,
a grand pro wrestling event, with its simplistic
portrayals of good and evil apparently served that purpose. North Korea had always
tended towards these types of old-fashioned, Stalinist spectacles in showcasing their might. And so, he was onboard. Thus the pieces were now in place. Inoki, Bischoff, and Kim were all in. But they needed a main
event to headline the show, one that would generate
a great deal of buzz. And it only made sense that Inoki himself be involved, given his superstar status, which he agreed to. Being semi-retired from
the sport by that point, and being an active,
high-profile politician made it unexpected to some, though not completely unique
in the annals of wrestling history, as seen by current Mayor of
Knox County, Tennessee, Kane, who still makes in-ring
appearances to this day. Inoki had always taken a, shall we say,
hands-on approach in diplomatic affairs, and controversies aside,
his actions have often stemmed from a genuine interest in
promoting world peace to the point of putting
himself in some real danger. Now the question was though, who was he going to
face in the main event? His opponent also had to be someone big, and preferably American. And so Eric Bischoff went
and asked his biggest star in WCW to join him in Pyongyang, the most famous wrestler
of all time, Hulk Hogan, who said no. But who did agree to join
him was the Nature Boy Ric Flair, also one of
the all-time greats. Unlike Hogan, party-boy Flair
was always up for an adventure and was excited to take the risk. And a risk it was, as once
inside the Hermit Kingdom, no one would be able to
guarantee their safety. Now at this point, the powers that be wanted even more prestige
added to the event, so they called upon a name
that even non-wrestling fans would have heard of. Astonishingly, Bischoff
was able to convince Muhammad Ali, The Greatest,
to join them on the ride. Many months later, in Pyongyang, this motley crew of high-profile American
and Japanese wrestlers and performers touched down in a special military plane
sent by the North Korean government. They were warned in advance
the plane would be bugged, filled with microphones, which
meant they had to refrain from saying anything even
remotely negative about the country. Upon landing, each person
had their passports taken, and was immediately assigned a handler by North Korea’s intelligence agency to follow them around 24/7. This meant they weren’t
allowed to go anywhere, except for on carefully curated tours of the country, crafted
specifically for them. On these tours, they had to
go to monuments and memorials, where they were told by their handlers that the atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happened, and that North Korea won World War II. Many times they had to pay their respects
to the great heroes of North Korea’s past, including, of course, the
recently deceased Supreme Leader. All in all, they were simply the best, and if anyone told them otherwise, there would be severe consequences. One of the wrestlers, big Scott Norton,
found this out the hard way. One night in his hotel room, he was on the phone with
his wife, who was in the US. They were arguing as she was
accusing him of partying recklessly having a blast with the guys over in Asia. Norton tried to explain
that she was wrong, that that sort of thing just
wasn’t possible in North Korea, but she didn’t believe him. Out of frustration, he yelled, “You don’t understand what
kind of (bleeping) we’re in.” Which is when the phone went dead. The door suddenly opened, and North Korean military personnel
came in and forced him out. They sat him down in an interrogation room and informed him that he can’t
talk about their country like that. Indeed, they had heard everything. The phone was tapped
and the room was bugged. All the hotel rooms
were under surveillance. According to his later account, Norton fully expected to be
shot right then, right there. But as things were looking dire, someone high up in command walked in, and after some vague
threats and a stern warning, he was let go. Perhaps it was ’cause they knew
a high-profile diplomatic incident would likely be more
detrimental to North Korea, or they just didn’t want to ruin the big event the next day, as Scott Norton
was a featured attraction. Either way, come event
time, Norton, Flair, all the wrestlers were
ready to put on a show. Now there was a huge famine going on, and so the wrestlers really had
no idea what sort of crowd to expect. Would they even be able to afford tickets? But upon arrival at the stadium, they were shocked to
find a packed attendance, which in itself is impressive, but this was North
Korea’s May Day Stadium, to this day, the largest
stadium in the world. Ric Flair was ecstatic that they were
real draws even in the Hermit Kingdom, but he was soon informed
that what he was witnessing was a forced attendance. North Korea wanted to show the world how much they were truly respected, and it was clear that empty arena matches just wouldn’t convey that. As for their militaristic might, they had tanks and launchers
displayed on the field, as well as lots and lots
and lots of marching. In the back, they had rows of children holding up sectioned
cards that collectively depicted ballistic missiles
hitting the US and Japan, which while a magnificent sight to behold, was awkwardly worrisome for
the American and Japanese wrestlers who were getting ready to perform. Now once they were performing,
once the actual wrestling started, things took a strange turn, because it became quickly apparent
that something wasn’t quite right. The entire stadium of people
were silent, eerily silent. Pro wrestling had always been contingent on eliciting crowd reactions
and playing off them, so this was a huge detriment
to the performance. Now, it turned out that
likely no one in the stadium actually knew what pro wrestling was. They didn’t know any of
the famous wrestlers, and they didn’t know it
was meant to be fake. For this conservative crowd, the carnivalesque glitz and glamour, the flamboyance and face
paint was just too much. And if anything, they
were expecting competition along the lines of amateur wrestling, or Greco-Roman, the
best fighting the best, the true gladiators, the elite, not this suspiciously fake stuff. But that wasn’t even the biggest problem, because the entire show was filled
with American and Japanese wrestlers. All the matches were either
America versus America, Japan versus Japan, or
America versus Japan. So who were they supposed to cheer? Wrestling’s meant to have a
good guy, bad guy dynamic, and they clearly established
at the start who not to cheer for. The deafening silence continued
through 2 Cold Scorpio’s breakdancing, the Steiner Brothers’ theatrics, and even some solid wrestling. There were a few exceptions though
that provoked a reaction, like the women’s tag match, which was absolutely shocking
for the North Korean men, Bull Nakano in particular
with the blue-haired dominatrix look; and
the match of behemoths, big Scott Norton, fresh
from interrogation, battling Shinya Hashimoto. Big heavyset men like
these were, of course, bewildering sights in a
country ravaged by famine. Exceptions aside though, by and large, there were no reactions. The crowd just didn’t care. And as the main event rolled
around, things were looking grim. Ric Flair versus Antonio Inoki, once again, America versus Japan. Now, Flair may have been on edge, but Inoki, well he wasn’t concerned because he had a plan. In fact, he had anticipated
the crowd from the very start, and as the architect of this whole affair, he was banking on one very
important piece of the puzzle, one that was remarkably
over 70 years in the making. Hongwon County, North Korea, 1924. On the east coast, there was a boy
who was the son of a farmer. He grew up poor, like many in the region, but once older, he was
able to make his way to Japan to earn a living. Korea was still under colonial
Japanese rule at the time. He first did sumo, but soon gave it up
to try his hand at professional wrestling. This is where he found unrivaled success defeating American after American, emerging as a folk hero
to the Japanese people. In the post-war era, the Japanese people were searching
for that one symbol of strength, a symbol of Japanese resurgence, and they found it in this man,
the man known as Rikidozan, the first real megastar
of Japanese pro wrestling. By this point, he was
a naturalized Japanese, but he still loved his
homeland and its people, if not the regime running it. Then in 1963, after an
altercation at a nightclub, to the shock of the nation,
he unexpectedly died. Now it was at this point North Korea decided to use him,
an ethnic North Korean, for propaganda purposes,
transferring his legacy to fit the North Korean narrative, defeating American after American
on behalf of the Kim regime, even if no one in the country
knew what pro wrestling was. Today, he stands as the nation’s
ultimate anti-imperialist patriot, and just like the Kims,
is a revered national hero, heavily featured in North Korean media, propaganda posters, monuments, with people all over the country
traveling to pay their respects. Which is why 30-odd years after his death, it was a monumental occasion
when Rikidozan’s protege, Antonio Inoki, on behalf of his mentor, returned to the homeland
to once again conquer and defeat an imperialist
American scoundrel. As Flair made his way to the ring looking as American as can be, with his blonde hair, blue eyes, and
star-studded robe, he was nervous. The crowd was treating him
with a sense of quiet disdain. But then it was time for Inoki’s entrance. He came out, and for the first time, the crowd came alive. It didn’t matter that he was Japanese, because he was representing
the great Rikidozan. As the match started, it became very clear that this wasn’t America versus Japan. This was America versus North Korea. – [Announcer] We hear the crowd for one
of the few times at Collision in Korea really responding to Inoki. – [Kento] The people truly loved Inoki, chanting his name, and
hanging on his every move. Flair too played his part well
with his classic cowardly antics. And after about 15 minutes
of back and forth action, Inoki nailed a cartwheel kick, a devastating top-rope kneedrop, and finally, his signature Enziguri kick. And it was over. The hero had triumphed. Fans stood up and applauded as
North Korea once again prevailed. The main event was a success. Kim was happy, and with the
entire event in Pyongyang having a legitimate
record-breaking attendance, far greater than any Wrestlemania to date, this was proclaimed
undoubtedly the greatest pro wrestling event in history. Or was it? That was the North Korean narrative, but outside of the Hermit Kingdom, the event actually failed
to garner any real publicity. No one knew about it. And the few who did reported it as
some strange attempt to win world respect, reinforcing international opinion
that North Korea was kind of weird. Kim Jong-il did not get
the respect he was seeking, but it wasn’t just him. After returning to Japan, Antonio
Inoki discovered that the event offered little to no political rub
amidst his controversies, and a few months later,
he lost his re-election bid to Japan’s House of Councillors. For Eric Bischoff, he decided to air
the controversial event on pay-per-view, marketing it as Collision in Korea, which hopefully was the big push he
needed to once and for all topple the WWF. But it tanked. The ratings were low, and no one cared. There wasn’t even any blowback
for their time in Korea. Years later, WCW was purchased by the WWF, by this point the WWE, and the event soon faded into obscurity. Now, interestingly, this wasn’t actually the
last time a major US wrestling company would go on to hold a prominent event
in a controversial totalitarian state. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2018. 23 years after North Korea, the WWE, now unrivaled as the world’s
largest wrestling promotion, held an event in the Kingdom’s capital. This amidst controversy involving the journalist Jamal Khashoggi who, after being surveilled for
weeks by Saudi officials, was executed in the Saudi
consulate in Turkey. According to many sources, the order came from the
crown prince himself, although Saudi Arabia denies this. The show went on despite criticisms
from prominent politicians, the media, political commentators,
and even WWE’s top stars, like Daniel Bryan and John Cena
who refused to work the event. All this was quite unlike
North Korea where no one cared. However, just like North Korea, the Saudi show inextricably featured a wrestler-turned
politician who, like Inoki, just so happened to compete
in the night’s main event, an uncanny coincidence, this man, the aforementioned Mayor of
Knox County, Tennessee, Kane. Now, the funny thing is, while North
Korea was spying on wrestlers, Saudi Arabia was spying on journalists, tapping their phones, and
hacking their accounts, which makes it all the more fitting that the only reason they
were caught and exposed was because Turkey was spying on them. And really, it’s not just governments,
or journalists or wrestlers, most people today are too lax
when it comes to online security, using the same password for
every account they have. Now if this is you, congratulations, you’ve just witnessed
my most convoluted seg, but that’s okay because
Dashlane makes keeping track of all your passwords
ridiculously easy. It stores all your passwords
in one super secure place and auto-fills them
on websites you go to. If you have the same password everywhere but are too lazy to go to each
individual website to change your passwords, well, not a problem, because
you can just click one button on the Dashlane app,
and it does it for you. But Kento Bento, what
if Dashlane gets hacked? It’s a very common question I get. Well, think of your Dashlane account
like a security deposit box. If someone were to break into a vault, they would need the keys to
every single security deposit box in order to decrypt your passwords, and they would have to do
it on a user-by-user basis. Which means storing
your passwords this way is of course significantly
safer than using one password, or variations on one
password everywhere, ’cause that can be
cracked easily by hackers. Note that Dashlane also
has many other features, like giving you access
to a password generator so you don’t have to spend time thinking
up super strong passwords like this one. By going to, you can get started for free. And if you want some
extra special features like syncing your
passwords and login details between all your devices
like iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, you can upgrade for 10% off, but only if you’re one
of the first 200 people to use the promo code
kentobento at checkout. Thanks for watching. (gentle music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *