112. Antonio Inoki vs Great Antonio (NJPW 8/12/1977)

Rest in Peace, Antonio Inoki. One of pro-wrestling’s true legends, Inoki assed away today at the age of 79. He did it all: formed his own wrestling promotion, became a multiple time World champion (and unacknowledged WWF champion!), fought Muhammed Ali, headlined a show in North Korea that holds the highest attendance for a wrestling show in history, became elected to the Japanese House of Councilors…oh, and is a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Those are just a few of his accomplishments. NJPW World’s ‘Recommended Section’ is full of Inoki’s most famous matches. But I wanted to watch one of his most infamous matches against the Great Antonio.

Great Antonio was a Canadian strongman, world famous in the 1960s/1970s. He’s wrestled in Japan during the 1960s, but his inflated ego saw him almost exiled from the country. He purportedly pulled a 433 ton train twenty metres along its tracks with his bare hands. Great Antonio’s strength never gave him great wrestling abilities, but gave him the power of spectacle. And that’s just what Inoki was looking for in 1977, to bolster his five year old promotion, NJPW. It was one of Inoki’s trademark moves: bring in a foreign monster heel and feud with him. Tiger Singh and Big Van Vader were among his most famous monster heel opponents.

Those two worked very well with Inoki, Vader in particular having two memorable matches with Inoki in 1987 (a cracking squash match, click here for my review) and in 1996 (click here for my review). But just by looking at Great Antonio, you could tell he didn’t care about wrestling, or working a wrestling match. His mid-section was enormous. Probably past his prime as a strongman, Great Antonio looked out of shape as he stood opposite Inoki. He looks like he had a full-on sweat before the match even began.

Then there’s the match itself. It begins like the typical face vs monster heel match should, with the monster heel no-selling the face’s strikes. Great Antonio shrugs off an Inoki dropkick like a fly has flown into him. The strongman locks in one or two weak-looking headlocks, seemingly uncaring about how legitimate the holds look. A minute afterwards, Inokj runs the ropes and jumps into Great Antonio, who stand there as if nothing as happened, whilst Inoki literally bounces off him. At this point, Inoki looks genuinely irritated.

This irritation explodes into anger when the Great Antonio rains down heavy forerams onto Inoki’s back and neck. You cam see Inoki wincing, and then you can the anger in his eyes. This is no longer a wrestling match. This is a real fight. Inoki slaps the taste out of Great Antonio’s mouth a few times, then puts Great Antonio on the mat with a single-leg takedown. He then boots Great Antonio in the face with sheer ferocity, as the camera zooms in on Great Antonio’s bloody face. The referee, obviously seeing that things haven gotten out of hand, quickly calls for the bell, announcing that Great Antonio can’t continue.

It’s rare that a wrestling match turns into a real fight. I can’t think of many instances off the top of my head, apart from that time when Brock Lesnar legitimately punched Braun Strowman in the head a few times after Strowman got a little bit too excited in the ring. Here, Inoki proves that he was someone not to be messed with. Almost always the supreme professional, he was pushed over the edge by the egostical Great Antonio. And the strongman suffered for it, being beaten to a pulp. You can see the shock in Great Antonio’s eyes when Inoko hit him with real slaps and palm strikes. When he turns away, he probably thought Inoki would let him he. Great Antonio thought wrong.

As a wrestling match, this is terrible. But you wouldn’t watch it for the wrestling. You’d watch it to see that Antonio Inoki was a legitimate badass, a genuine good guy that you wouldn’t want to push over the edge. And you’d watch it to see the rare occasion that a pro-wrestling match turns into a real fight.

(As an aside, I noticed the officials at ringside had the WWF logo on their shirts? How strange…)

Hammy’s Rating: * (out of 5)

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


One thought on “112. Antonio Inoki vs Great Antonio (NJPW 8/12/1977)

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