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I found a pair of Igapro posts (1, 2) on the circumstances around the Inoki/Robinson match, and they provide some info that I wish I had incorporated into the Jumbo bio posts. I may edit some of it in later but I think it’s worth its own post.

I may have misrepresented the situation around the 1975 Open League being titled such. It was indeed meant as an implicit challenge to Inoki, but when it was announced on September 29 of that year they did invite NJPW to participate. Inoki had been trying to get the singles match against Baba that he’d wanted since the late JWA days, but he sensed that this was a trap, and refused because New Japan had not received a formal offer, and they had already decided their schedule for the rest of the year.

Now, on the surface this was business as usual. Inoki had done this same thing before, challenging Baba without making an actual offer to All Japan and then claiming that Baba had chickened out. What made this case a little different, however, was that the Open League was going to be tied to a memorial show for the twelfth anniversary of Rikidōzan’s death. After his match against Lou Thesz on October 9, Inoki met with Masao Yamamoto, the guardian of Rikidōzan’s estate, to negotiate his participation. However, Inoki refused despite Yamamoto’s insistence, as he had already booked the Kuramae Kokugikan for the Robinson match, and the broadcast schedule was in place.

The memorial show was announced in a press conference on October 21, held by Yamamoto and widow Keiko Momota. Yamamoto requested that, as a disciple of Rikidōzan, Inoki would cancel his match against Robinson to work the event. It must be noted that both events were running head-to-head in Tokyo: the Rikidōzan memorial at Budokan, and the NJPW show at Kuramae. Of course, while the Rikidōzan memorial event was to be ostensibly hosted by his surviving family, it was in practicality an All Japan event. And according to this source, Baba was the one who convinced the Rikidōzan family to book it on the same date as the NJPW Kuramae show.

As you might imagine, Inoki didn’t budge, so one week later, Yamamoto accused him and NJPW of reneging on their “promise” to participate in the show, essentially calling Inoki a bastard who had forgotten his debt to Rikidōzan. Inoki was hurt by this, but he didn’t budge. In a public statement, Inoki asked for them to consider that what would make Rikidōzan most happy was the flourishing of puroresu, and expressed that his teacher would be proud of the match he was going to have against Robinson. He even went so far as to say that it would be up to the fans to decide whether his match or the Rikidōzan memorial main event was the real Rikidōzan memorial match. (And, I mean, considering that Inoki/Robinson is one of the most famous puro matches of its era, and that the Abdullah the Butcher vs Kintaro Oki antepenultimate match is the only thing from the Rikidōzan memorial show that has been rebroadcast – despite the fact that the Open League might be the most relatively well-preserved puro singles tournament of the 70s – I think Shin Nihon won that battle.) In response, Momota and Yamamoto issued a notice of excommunication in their names, so that Inoki would no longer be able to call himself a disciple of (St.) Rikidōzan (the Great).

Before the fateful day, there’s one more incident worth covering. Both events were being supported by Tokyo Sports, who were concerned about Inoki’s refusal to participate in the memorial show and his excommunication. The paper arranged a meeting between Inoki and Momota & Yamamoto on December 6, in which they served as intermediary. Inoki held firm that he would not participate in the memorial show, but nevertheless apologized to the family, which they accepted. That might sound weird, but it makes more sense when you realize that this was, in fact, another trap. When Tokyo Sports published an article on the meeting, New Japan was furious because, in apologizing, Inoki was essentially kowtowing to Baba. As trustworthy a boss as he might have been for gaikokujin, make no mistake: Shohei Baba was a shrewd politician.

Besides a match recap that’s basically everything from these posts. However, it drops a few more tidbits:

  1. Robinson had been interested in Inoki ever since the two had shared a flight in 1971.
  2. Both Lou Thesz and Karl Gotch expressed interest in refereeing the Inoki/Robinson match, but Red Shoes Duggan eventually got the job, as Thesz and Gotch participated as ringside witnesses.
  3. This source confirms that the pay cut which led Robinson to jump ship to AJPW was due to New Japan saving money for the Inoki/Ali fight.


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