5 Moments in Fake Professional Wrestling That Got Too Real
As we've mentioned previously, professional wrestling is much harder than it looks. Sure, the moves may be choreographed and the results predetermined, but like any job that entails two half-naked giants throwing furniture at each other, there are always going to be some accidents.
The trouble is that when the performers involved are both huge and insane, one accident can escalate play-fighting into the real thing pretty quickly. Like ...
Antonio Inoki vs. The Great Antonio
On December 8, 1977, famous Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki fought a much bigger, hairier guy also named Antonio. He was a Croatian-Canadian who called himself the Great Antonio because apparently the defining features of greatness are hobo facial hair and D-cup breasts.
By that definition, Taft was America's greatest president.
He built a career as a strongman pulling city buses and airplanes across the tarmac, but he hadn't done much professional wrestling. Without knowing much about the guy, Inoki still agreed to a match, likely thinking, "How hard can it be to out-wrestle a fat guy in a rolled-down April O'Neil jumpsuit?"
Before the match, they agreed that the advantage would swing between the fighters for awhile, but Inoki would ultimately come out on top. It was, after all, in Japan, and the home crowd wanted to see Inoki destroy this sloppy Western villain. The Great Antonio was more than willing to play the antagonist in the bout -- he was so eager, in fact, that he antagonized Inoki into actually beating the piss out of him.
Antonio Inoki, seen here dressed as Che Guevara for some reason.
When It Got Real
While strength, dexterity and a fancy finishing move are all important to professional wrestling, the primary ingredient is acting -- you have to know how to throw yourself across the ring even though your opponent only nudged you. But about two minutes into the match, the Great Antonio made it very clear that he wasn't going to be doing any of that.
In fact, you can almost see the moment when he realizes, "Wait a minute, only one of us has 'The Great' in front of his name. I should be winning." So when Inoki threw a kick at him, instead of "selling" the move (that is, stumbling backward as if he'd been hit with a real blow), he just stood there. In other words, he basically just told the crowd, "See? All of this is fake."
Except the gut. 1970s special effects couldn't fake that.
This technique is also known as "completely defeating the purpose of professional wrestling." The video, and the ugly result, is amazing:
As you can see, Inoki tried to keep the match moving along. He continued to flop around as though he was actually locked in a vicious battle with the dozy buffalo standing still in the middle of the ring. But Inoki started to lose his temper.
Finally, the Great Antonio lumbered in for the kill, clubbing Inoki in the chest and the neck as hard as he could with one of his ham-sized arms. Inoki patiently accepted the blows and then carefully explained to the Great Antonio that they weren't playing anymore, in the language of fists.
The Great Antonio responded in the language of Jell-O.
After striking Antonio six or seven times in the face, Inoki grabbed one of his tree trunk legs and dropped him to the ground. As the Great Antonio clumsily tried to get his 350 pounds back up on two pudgy feet, Inoki took his time walking around the whale of a man and proceeded to stomp the crap out of his head for what seemed like 7,000 blows too many.
Head-stomping is like running. Sometimes you just get lost in the zone.
Once Inoki was certain that the Great Antonio was successfully beached, he finally lost interest and wandered away. The Great Antonio lay bleeding on the mat, perhaps thinking about what happens when you violate the one rule on which all professional wrestling hinges, or maybe just cake. Probably cake.
Brain damage makes him hungry.
Strangely, this was only the second most ridiculous match of Antonio Inoki's career ...
Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki
Coming off his final fight with Joe Frazier, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was looking for new people to punch in the face, and was basically out of boxers. His search for opponents took him to Tokyo for a match against, yes, Antonio Inoki (who was almost as famous in Japan as Ali was in the United States). What could possibly go wrong?
Inoki might have a bee-sting allergy?
Together, they decided to pile-drive logic and have a mixed rules match between two completely incompatible fighting styles, one of them completely fake. Naturally, everyone assumed that this fight would be staged as well. Everyone, that is, except Inoki, who went on record before the fight, saying:
"I don't know how seriously Muhammad Ali is taking the fight, but if he doesn't take it seriously, he could suffer damage. I'm going in there fighting. I may even break his arm."
"I'll throw a bitch at him. I don't even care!"
He was sincerely training to wrestle a boxing champion who not only had no knowledge about wrestling, but would also be wearing giant, clumsy mittens during the match. As the event neared, Ali realized that the fight would be real, and his camp frantically tried to renegotiate the rules. Those new rules restricted Inoki from throwing, tackling or using pretty much any other wrestling move while fighting Ali, which was like asking Ali not to punch or write poems about how much his opponents suck.
"Instead, we'll settle the whole match via extended man-groping."
When It Got Real
So how did Inoki manage to overcome these overwhelming odds? He laid down. Not in the metaphorical sense; he literally laid down in the middle of the ring and kicked at Ali like a fussy toddler who didn't want to go to bed. His only recourse was to stay on the ground and make Ali come down to him, offering a few kicks to the shins and thighs for good measure.
The strategy worked, too. Ali had no idea what to do. He tried to goad his opponent into getting back to his feet and fighting properly by shouting "Coward Inoki!" and "Inoki no fight!" but the Japanese wrestler was not going to be shamed into fighting a losing battle. In the fourth round he backed Ali into a corner, landing a series of kicks, and in the sixth round he tripped Ali and sat on his face for a little while.
It's a valid tactic in Mortal Kombat, and it's a valid tactic in real life.
The fight ended after going the full 15 rounds, and in that time, Ali only threw six punches. The judges ruled the fight a draw -- which is exactly the same result they probably would have decided on if they had just staged the match from the start. The only difference being that this way, they angered thousands of baffled fans, and Ali ended up with blood clots in his legs from the cuts caused by Inoki's boots. Honestly, what the hell were they expecting?
ECW Wrestlers vs. Their Fans
Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) was a professional wrestling organization that existed from 1992 until 2001. It was relatively small compared to heavy hitters like World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), but stuck around so long because of two factors: extreme violence and the psychotic bloodthirsty fan base it fostered.
Who could have imagined that this would amp people up?
The wrestlers in the ECW would hit each other with spiked baseball bats and throw each other through burning tables, and the ropes around the ring were generally made of barbed wire. The fans were so homicidal that they started bringing weapons for the wrestlers once they became too desensitized to enjoy watching someone get hit in the face with a steel ladder anymore.
So in August 1994, Terry Funk and Cactus Jack faced each other in the main ECW event Hardcore Heaven, thus creating a match-up fans had been dreaming about, and also one of the most embarrassing sentences we've ever had to write. For some context, Terry Funk and Cactus Jack were two of the most famous hardcore wrestlers in the history of the organization, and they were bitter rivals. During the run of the ECW, these two spent more time with their heads in one another's crotches than most married couples ever will. But despite all the damage they did to one another and all the blood spilled between them, they both remained consummate professionals. This time, it was the fans who were trying to murder someone.
Because hey, watching people fall on piles of barbed wire gets old.
When It Got Real
During the match, the tag team Public Enemy interfered, forcing Funk and Cactus Jack to team up briefly. While fighting off the intruders, Funk turned to the ravenous crowd and asked someone to throw him a chair. Now, given the nature of the fan base, he may have been the only person there that night who didn't realize the invitation for violence he had just offered an arena full of unstable psychopaths.
It's possible that the first few steel chairs that were thrown into the ring were innocent enough. These people may have genuinely wanted to help Funk. But after the first couple of dozen, that ship had clearly sailed. They were just throwing the chairs because hey those other guys got to throw chairs, and I don't have a tangible way to deal with my emotions either. One of the seats actually whacked Funk himself, who used the opportunity to fall to the ground and roll the fuck out of the ring.
"Please, please, no more chairity!"
Meanwhile, Public Enemy were completely buried under a mound of pointy metal. An official started telling fans to stop throwing chairs into the ring over the arena speakers, but that was like asking a mob of rioters to turn the burning police car back over and go home; it was long past the point of no return. After all, the man who bleeds for a living had asked them to throw chairs in the first place, and that's the kind of authority you don't mess with.
Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt in the incident, and it became one of the most memorable matches in the organization's history. The crowd was certainly on its feet for it. But then again, they had thrown away their chairs.
"Oh God, it smells like ass under here."
Masahiko Kimura vs. Rikidozan
It was a match dubbed the Duel of the Century -- between Masahiko Kimura and the Japanese Professional Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, Rikidozan. Kimura earned his fame by being pretty talented at real fighting -- he had only lost four judo matches in his entire life, and even had an arm lock named after him that's still used consistently in modern MMA. Rikidozan, on the other hand, dabbled briefly in sumo wrestling before really building a career throwing himself around professional wrestling rings.
He loved sucking his gut in too much to go sumo.
But even though one of the fighters was the real thing, the Duel of the Century was staged as a series of fake matches that would have toured around Japan, highlighting the evenly matched skill set of each man. We say "would have" because they never got through more than one match; Rikidozan made it clear that the only thing more important to him than piles of money and attention was winning.
When It Got Real
The very first match was supposed to end in a draw, setting up all the future matches in the Duel of the Century, but Rikidozan went into business for himself just a few minutes into the fight.
The two wrestled for a while like they had rehearsed, exchanging fake holds and dodging painfully sluggish attacks, because apparently everything could be in slow motion in the '50s and still keep the entire audience absolutely enthralled.
"A 45-minute headlock ... how can he withstand such punishment?"
Then without warning, Rikidozan snapped. He unleashed a flurry of chops to Kimura's neck and face. The flustered judo champion backed into a corner, afraid to fight back in any real capacity, because he was concerned that breaking Rikidozan in half might sour the deal.
When he did try judo's deadliest move, the face smush, it was to no avail.
At one point, Kimura even turned to the referee, presumably to ask for some kind of help, only to be pummeled to the floor and kicked in the face while the ref just watched and nodded.
"This'll teach you to ... respectfully adhere to match plans."
Somehow Kimura mustered up enough strength to stand up, bewildered by the turn of events. After the referee checked him for injuries, Rikidozan raced back in and chopped Kimura so hard in the neck that he knocked him out cold.
"Are you OK to continue?"
Rikidozan celebrated his glorious victory while a swollen-faced and disoriented Kimura looked on from his corner, trying to understand what the hell had just happened. In the aftermath, Kimura still had the composure to shake the hand of Rikidozan and congratulate him on the win, even though he was well within his rights, as far as we're concerned, to forcefully rearrange his organs.
Hulk Hogan vs. Richard Belzer
Hulk Hogan's mid-'80s dominance in professional wrestling both revolutionized the sport and took it mainstream. He was everywhere, from cartoons and music to nearly every piece of merchandise you can think of. Naturally, he appeared on the talk show circuit as well. In 1985, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were invited onto the show Hot Properties, hosted by Richard Belzer (long before he started arresting perverts on Law and Order: SVU).
Nope, nothing odd about that career arc at all.
Belzer, who looks like he weighs about 102 pounds after a Thanksgiving dinner, prodded Hogan to show him some basic wrestling moves, and Hogan obliged.
He obliged Belzer's neck to a 90-degree angle.
When It Got Real
Belzer had spent the whole first half of the show taking shots at professional wrestling and belittling the careers of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. His desire to see a pro wrestling move was less an earnest request and more an accusation that Hulk Hogan was just an actor. Keep in mind, at the time professional wrestling was still adamant that everything in the ring was real, so when some weedy talk show host challenged Hogan to put a hold on him, Hogan's natural inclination was to hurt the guy.
Which, in fairness, wasn't the worst thing he could have done in this position.
So Hulk Hogan, who had been growing increasingly more furious throughout the show, put Belzer in a front chin lock and, whether out of anger or because Belzer weighed about as much as paper, put enough pressure on the lock to close Belzer's airway.
It was only a few seconds before Belzer went completely limp. Like Lenny accidentally crushing a rabbit, a tiny portion of Hogan's brain suspected that something was wrong and he let go. Belzer then crumpled to the floor, completely unconscious, while Hogan stood there and watched him fall. Belzer's head smacked hard on the concrete floor.
Mr. T, to his credit, attempted to alleviate the anxiety of the crowd by suggesting that "he's just sleepin'" while a pool of blood slowly started to form around Belzer's skull. After a few panicked moments where Hulk Hogan showed something like regret for killing a talk show host on his own show, Belzer finally woke up, disoriented and pouring a steady stream of blood down the back of his jacket.
"Just walk it off, somewhere with a softer floor."
Belzer then sued the pants off of both Hogan and the WWF, demanding $5 million before ultimately settling out of court. So today when Hulk Hogan does his Debt Help Center commercials, it's hard not to wonder if he looks back on that moment and questions if it was worth actively trying to hurt a guy he outweighed by nearly 200 pounds just to prove a point about professional wrestling no one believed anyway.
For more on hot, sweaty, half-naked men, check out The 9 Most Unintentionally Depressing Pro Wrestling Gimmicks and 5 Reasons Pro Wrestlers Are the Best Actors in the World.