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[1987-12-27-NJPW] Antonio Inoki vs Big Van Vader

Superstar Sleeze

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Before there was ECW, there was fucking New Japan in 1987 BABY! Right out of the ECW playbook, this was a series of impromptu matches that led to a mega-hot debut and apparently a riot at the Sumo Hall. New Japan World has an excellent 38 minute video up covering it all. 

So it begins with Saito cutting a promo in the ring with Choshu and Vader. This is after the very famous Island Death Match. I am presuming Saito is introducing Vader as his assassin. Inoki comes out. It is a bit confusing but we end up settling into a tag team match pitting Masa Saito & Riki Choshu vs Tastumi Fujinami & Kengo Kimura.

Masa Saito & Riki Choshu vs Tastumi Fujinami & Kengo Kimura

A match that wont really change your life but there is one very strange moment. Saito & Choshu dominate the match. Outside two flurries of offense for the babyfaces, the heel dominated. Choshu blasts Fujinami with a lariat to send him to the outside and then winds up and crushes Kimura to win. What was weird? How unruly the crowd was! They were chanting something that I couldnt understand they would not relent. They seemed angry. A couple minutes into the match, Choshu puts on the Scorpion Deathlock on Fujinami and the crowd morphs into a 1997 Nitro crowd and litters the ring with drinks and trash. It was so bizarre and electric. They never did it again, but they were not as vociferous as the match wore on but they would still chant. 

So Choshu immediately gets on the mic and yells for Inoki. Super hot. Inoki comes out, Choshu bails. Inoki tries to call him back out. Choshu trots out but Inoki has left. Inoki comes back in. That was a lot of wasted time. 

Antonio Inoki vs Riki Choshu. 

The ref is trying to pull Choshu out of the corner for crowding and Inoki nails him with an enziguiri which is a dick move that only like Hogan or Dusty could get away with as a babyface. He bloodies Choshu on the outside. Back in the ring, Choshu is lunging, but collapsing at Inoki trying to hit him as Inoki beats him up. Choshu hits one Saito Suplex in defiance but basically gets owned by Inoki who slaps on the Octopus Stretch. There is some commotion but it looks like Hase throws in the towel. Hase bowls Inoki over to break Choshu free. His reward, Choshu giving him a hard shove out of the ring. A bloody Choshu is pissed at Hase. 

Inoki now calls out Saito but Saito has back-up in the form of the Mastodon, Vader! Vader has the silly looking Elephant Steam Helmet but no mask but he is in great shape.

Antonio Inoki vs Big Van Vader. 

Inoki tries a surprise attack, but Vader shrugs it off and DEMOLISHES INOKI! He squashes him like this was nothing. Outside of the famous Brock squash of Cena theres nothing like this maybe Vader vs Sting at GAB 1992. After watching a shit ton of Bam Bam Bigelow in New Japan I am so glad they picked Leon over him for this gimmick. The Vader whistle, his cockiness and his ferocity were on display. He fucking rocked. He kicked Inoki's shit in. Inoki fucking MADE VADER! This is how you get a monster heel over on night 1. 

Insane string of impromptu matches leading to one of the hottest debuts and angles in pro wrestling history! Something every wrestling fan needs to see!

Also I invite anyone who knows more about this night to please further elaborate on what happened! 

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  • paul sosnowski changed the title to [1987-12-27-NJPW] Antonio Inoki vs Big Van Vader
On 8/28/2021 at 9:43 PM, Superstar Sleeze said:

 Also I invite anyone who knows more about this night to please further elaborate on what happened! 

*blows into hands* I have a bit more I can add, but you’ll need to bear with some outside context.


Vader arrived as a kayfabe representative of “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, the television comedian who was just coming off of a six-month house arrest, during which the program he hosted for TV Asahi had slumped. (After a reporter for magazine FRIDAYS injured a woman Kitano was dating through their forceful attempts to get an interview, Kitano rounded up his posse to break into the editorial office in December 1986, and was arrested for breaking and entering, property destruction, and assault.) In yet another attempt to attract casual fans to the NJPW product in this period, Takeshi became involved in an angle against Inoki. Original plans were for “Takeshi Gundan” to train talent of their own in a “prep school”-like situation; they got the future Gedo, Jado and Super Delfin on board, and plans were to have Apollo Sugawara, who had been cut from All Japan in 1986, act as their trainer.

Leon White was, as you most certainly would know, an AWA guy. In fact, All Japan had been interested in acquiring him for themselves, but their relations with the AWA had already grown some distance even before the Curt Hennig debacle of the following January, so New Japan were able to get him through Masa Saito’s connection.

Vader’s mask and armor had been commissioned for some character during the short-lived I Can’t Wait Until the Give-Up! era of World Pro Wrestling (I covered this in a reply to one of your other recent match reviews), in the hopes of attracting casual viewers interested in shonen manga/anime. Tokyo Sports magazine apparently salvaged the props.

As has been cleared up in Western accounts before infamous Sumo Hall riot was not the visceral response of a crowd that rejected Vader’s dominant performance, as the story had been misconstrued. It was the reaction of a crowd of wrestling fans that wanted to see Inoki wrestle Choshu and got bait-and-switched for some random guy who was supposed to be a Beat/Saito proxy. Inoki tried to satiate them with a double header, but well, you saw what a clusterfuck that was.


After the wrestlers had returned to the dressing room, poor Kero Tanaka went to his knees in the center of the ring, tearfully apologizing to the crowd as they threw their trash into the ring. When Inoki came back out to try to salvage the situation, it was not at all deescalated.

TV Asahi probably could’ve stuck their neck out for NJPW and made the Sumo Hall ban less harsh, but as they were broadcasting sumo their own business interests were too tied up.

World Pro Wrestling would lose its primetime slot the following April.

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