Antonio Inoki and Big Van Vader – The Match That Incited A Riot

On December 27th, 1987, two of wrestling’s most recognized names in the industry, Antonio Inoki and Big Van Vader, would face each other in a match where the result would not only shock those in attendance but cause a riot in the process.

But before the match would take place, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s beloved Antonio Inoki would face Riki Choshu.

For those unaware of Choshu, he was considered to some among the most influential wrestlers in Japan during his time competing through the 80s and 90s. But on this night in late December, Choshu would be somewhat of a footnote to something that was far greater after he and Inoki faced one another.

Antonio Inoki and Big Van Vader
[Photo: Hammy Reviews]

Antonio Inoki and Big Van Vader –
The Match That Incited A Riot

While what was about to take place after Inoki faced Choshu was key here, it was important to recognize the ‘Baby Bull” that was Vader who he would face. Big Van Vader had earned a reputation in Japan as being a fierce gaijin.

He would begin to build a following as a Mastadon-in-training when he would first emerge in the late Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association.

What would be even more remarkable was that upon Vader’s signing in Japan, it would be with Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling upon competing in the country. It wasn’t until Baba essentially exchanged his contract with NJPW. At this time, Leon White would become Big Van Vader.

Inoki would defeat Choshu by disqualification in Tokyo, Japan. The result of the match is inconsequential, but what wasn’t was what would happen after the two would battle. A young gaijin, or’ mastodon’ named Big Van Vader, would debut in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

Vader on facing Antonio Inoki

“I debut against Antonio Inoki who you know had how did you end up going to their star status above what Hogan was to America.

Inoki, was a greater star in Japan at this time than Hogan was in America. I end up going in a single match with Inoki and something about Sumo balance. “

But his debut would come as a protégé of a Japanese entertainer who would become a manager, Takeshi Kitano. Vader would come to the ring and would immediately demand to face the beloved Inoki in front of the New Japan faithful.

Although Inoki was exhausted after facing Choshu, he was the consonant professional. In the process, would agree to face Vader. Upon Inoki’s acceptance of the match, all hell would break loose.

The bell would ring, and the debuting Big Van Vader would dismantle the legend piece by piece. In a matter of minutes, Vader would shock the wrestling world and defeat Antonio Inoki in a matter of minutes.

Vader vs. Inoki Leads to an Actual RIOT | WrestleCrap

Vader on what defeating Antonio Inoki did for him

“And pinning him in two minutes so you think about the you know what if I got buried on the bottom against you know could be talking about (Brusier) Brody and (Stan) Hansen and (Ted) DiBiase and (Harley) Race you know it just in the let’s kept going (Dr. Death) Steve Williams I mean it just kept going there so unique..”

He came in and beat down on Inoki, leaving him virtually defenseless in the process. Upon entering the ring, Vader would beat on Inoki without him demonstrating even a single offensive move in the match. It was unheard of.

First, that Inoki would lose (which was a rare feat on its own at the time), losing to an unknown in Vader making his debut, and not getting any offense in all led to something that no one anticipated would happen next.

If Inoki was the hero of the masses, then for the hero to lose wouldn’t sit well with those in attendance. After the match ended, young boys and trainers would rush to the ring in hopes of protecting and supporting Inoki in defeat. In the process, Vader wouldn’t stand for it and clear the ring of one man after another.

“I didn’t know till the very last minute I was just you know keep your mouth shut and get in the ring as quick as possible before they change their mind because had that never happened to anyone in the history of professional wrestling it would be be a shock.”

But after that the 10,000 fans in attendance would riot! The ring would torn apart, and the destruction of the ring was a sign of the displeasure of the often hard-to-please New Japan faithful.

When Outrage Led To A Riot

“I understand there was a riot there due to that, and your actual we’ll see yet he goes on about a nine-year winning streak, and when I beat him in two minutes they got pissed off the little did and they were rumbling and grumbling and then they litter they sit on tell they were lit on fire.”

Vader on beating Inoki and the riot that ensued.

The reaction by those in attendance wasn’t a disappointment, as fans in wrestling today will be with wins or losses. But in 1987, disappointment was replaced with rage. Fans in attendance would get up and riot! Their beloved hero would fall victim to a man who had no pedigree behind him.

Regardless of the presentation and presence of Vader, Antonio Inoki was akin to Hulk Hogan to the Eastern culture at the time. He could do no wrong and say no wrong. And in this instance, to be systematically torn apart and in a convincing fashion was unheard of.

But the combination of suplexs, hard strikes, and a power slam to finish off Inoki made a statement.

Antonio Inoki and Big Van Vader
[Photo: Hammy Reviews]

The Consequences of the Riot in New Japan Pro Wrestling

The consequences of the riot would lead to New Japan Pro Wrestling being subsequently banned from Sumo Hall for more than a year. It wouldn’t be until February 1989 that NJPW would run their next show in the venue.

For Western audiences, the sheer size and strength exhibited by Big Van Vader would prove to be most convincing. But to Eastern audiences, the echelon to which Antonio Inoki was valued far exceeded the presentation that Vader would provide fans with.

After this encounter, Inoki and Vader crossed paths more than three dozen times. In the process, Inoki would exact his revenue, defeating Vader on several occasions and through a variety of means.

However, it will also go down in history that their initial confrontation was marred with a shocking result but in and out of the ring.

But it also laid the foundation for a man who would be a multi-time world champion and strike fear in the hearts of those he faced and those looking on for more than two decades.