44. Vader vs Antonio Inoki (NJPW Wrestling World 1996)

Vader had one of the all-time great debuts in wrestling history when he battered Antonio Inoki in a couple of minutes in NJPW. I greatly looked forward to their future matches…and the first two that are on NJPW World left me disappointed. However, almost eight years after Vader’s debut, he fought Inoki in an incredible match. Inoki at 52, Vader with an injured shoulder (on his way to debuting in WWF as well), met one last time…and it is a must-see bout!.

NJPW Wrestling World 1996 was a cross-promotional event between NJPW and UWFI. But as part of his ‘Farewell’ tour, Antonio Inoki decided to take on one of his great rivals: Vader. Inoki, at 52, was near the end of his career (or so you’d think!). Vader had a serious shoulder injury and was gearing up for a career in the WWF (where, sadly, he was misused). Somehow, the two created something special. It pretty much follows the story of their previous matches: Vader dominates, Inoki has sporadic come backs. But instead of long periods of rest holds and silly endings (like the other two matches that I watched on NJPW World), this is a spectacle of brutality. 

When I say Vader dominates, I mean he dominates: he slaps Inoki hard across the face before the bell even rings. He batters him at ringside. The assault is merciless, with INoki managing to get a few shots in here and there. It culminates in a hard-to-watch German Suplex executed by Vader. Inoki lands right on his head, and doesn’t move a muscle for at least a minute. Seeing a 52 year old being battered is hard enough…but seeing him take that German Suplex was horrifying!

Just like their squash match was the perfect squash match, this is the perfect David vs Goliath match. Inoki absorbs an inhuman amount of punishment (but not so much as to turn support for the babyface into disbelief, as when babyfaces kick out of multiple finishers…). He’s the old, tired veteran, hoping for one last legendary battle to see him on his way. Vader’s the monster, the unstoppable beast who grows more and more frustrated that he can’t put the old man out of commission. Even with an injured shoulder, Vader manages to execute a beautiful moonsault. 

If I had a criticism, it would be the sudden finish. It’s not built up at all throughout the match, although it’s an unsubtle callback to their previous matches. However, apart from that, this is sublime action. Hard-hitting, brutal and uncompromising, you’ll be rallying behind Inoki even if you’ve never heard of him! Wrestling is supposed to be theatrics, and one of the easiest stories to tell is David vs Goliath. And it’s rarely told better than this war between Vader and Inoki. 

Hammy’s Rating: ***** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘A Wrestling Match A Day‘)

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