114. Antonio Inoki vs Hulk Hogan (NJPW IWGP Championship League 20/6/1983)

During scrolling through NJPW World’s list of ‘Recommended’ Antonio Inoki matches, I came across (yet another?) dream match: Inoki vs Hulk Hogan. Yes, you read that right: one of the biggest names in Japanese pro wrestling against one of the biggest names in American pro wrestling. Not only that, but it was for an early version of the IWGP Championship! Being a Hogan match, I didn’t expect much from it…and it met my low expectations.

Say what you want about Hulk Hogan, but he knew what the audience wanted. In America, he gave them showmanship. In Japan, he gave them wrestling. In this match, the first move he executes is a drop toehold. Yes, you read right: Hulk Hogan goes for a proper wrestling takedown!! He then ruins it by attempting some sort of STF or headlock, but his forearm is awkwardly across Inoki’s forehead and his legs aren’t wrapped around Inoki’s leg. If you go into this match expecting a typical Hogan match from the 80s, you’re in for a surprise.

Because these two exchange wrestling holds for the majority of the bout. It reminded me of Inoki’s bout against Sting (click here for my review), where it was about holds and submissions rather than power moves. There are a handful of suplexes here, but for the first two thirds of the bout it’s all about the wrestling holds. And that would be fine, but there’s little in the way of story or in-ring psycholog. Neither wrestler focuses on one body part. They both attempt holds and submissions seemingly at random, as if they are biding their time. To be honest, it is really rather dull!

The two do ramp up the action in the final five minutes, attempting to imbue the match with a sense of urgency. I mean, it was for a World title, but these two fought as if it was a house show level match in front of a few hundred fans. Of course, the fans lap it up anyway, with chants of Inoki ringing out loud throughout (and Hogan was beloved in Japan as well at the time, known by the nickname Ichiban, or Number One, by Japanese wrestling fans). So the two didn’t need to do much of anything to get a reaction.

And they didn’t do much at all, until the closing moments of the bout. The end of the bout left me in a state of confusion (because I listened to the Japanese commentary, to be fair), and it’s the type of finish people would roll their eyes at nowadays. I had low expectations, and these low expectations were met (just about)! It a match full of unrelated holds and submissions, uncharacteristic of Hulk Hogan’s American in-ring work. From that point of view, it’s interesting to watch. But I wouldn’t watch this ‘dream match’ ever again.

Hammy’s Rating: ** (out of 5)

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

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