Man has had a fascination with monsters for centuries. Whether they’re running rampant through dreams and imaginations, being hunted and spotted in the wilderness, or are simply products of tales to frighten and astonish; these legends have had a part of every person’s (young or old) life since they were old enough to talk. What makes a monster though? Is it simply a product of a creative mind?
Are they actually created in a lab? Do they go to a university in their own world where they hone their abilities to scare children? I’m not a religious man, but I’ll pray to whatever false god I need to, to make sure it’s the last option. However, it really depends on the monster, doesn’t it?
Big Van Vader is arguably one of — if not — the best big men to ever dominate the squared circle and in every right has earned the title of “monster.” The Vader Times exists as a shrine to the Mastodon, so naturally his debut match (as Vader) vs. Antonio Inoki is as fine a totem as any to place at the altar for the first prayer. And, yes, that prayer includes fearfully requesting that he not club me to unconsciousness in the corner of my room.
Let me stress, before we continue, it is a fine totem. Not perfect, not great, but a good start.
If you want to speak of monsters, it’s important to point out the different kind of monster Inoki was in Japan during that era. Prior to this match with Vader, he hadn’t done a job in 2 years. Before that? It was ten+ years. The legend of Mr. Inoki in Japan and the States is no secret and a history lesson here need not apply, but take into consideration his popularity, how he protected himself, and the dollar signs he must have seen in Mr. Leon White.
Perhaps you’ve heard tales of the Mastodon soaring into Japan, easily vanquishing their hero and the crowd defiantly rising up against him, rioting from the sheer shock and sadness of what they had just seen. Well, after a little research (thanks to Google, Reddit, and some info found here), it wasn’t all due to the dominant performance. Of course, it certainly didn’t help the already heated Japanese crowd.
To summarize, NJPW introduced actor/comedian Takeshi Kitano (you’ll probably recognize him from Battle Royale among other things) as a heel dissatisfied by the lack of strong athletes being produced by New Japan. He brought in Vader as a force to destroy the promotion (this was in addition to having Saito audition new wrestlers for his cause, wrestlers that ended up being Jado, Gedo, and Super Delfin).
At this particular event, the main event was advertised as Ricky Choshu vs. Inoki with Vader involved in a tag match teaming with Saito vs. Fujinami and Kimura. After a series of convoluted changes to the card, subjecting the crowd to matches they clearly did not want to see, Inoki said he would fight both Choshu and Vader. Inoki picked up a DQ win over Choshu but the bout was only 6 minutes, adding much to the frustration of a crowd that paid to see that matchup.
Vader then polished off Inoki in roughly three minutes. It was the first time in two years that Japan had seen the icon fall and he barely put up a fight. Vader manhandled the legend and barely broke a sweat doing it. During the events of this disappointing card and after this match, the crowd threw garbage into the ring and did so much damage to Sumo Hall they banned NJPW for two years.
There are a few different perspectives on this riot. Some people say the fanbase wasn’t welcoming of very American-esque story lines bringing in a celebrity and Kitano’s presence really agitated things. Others say the rioting had more to do with how unhappy the crowd was with the changes made to the card, especially believing they weren’t going to get the Choshu/Inoki match that had been advertised. All these factors contributed, but independently watch their match (or if you have NJPW World, watch here) and there’s more to it than simply stress stacked on stress.
As soon as the referee’s hand strikes the mat for the final time, you can hear the collective gasp from the crowd and the shock in the announcer’s voice as he calls it. A giant specimen of a man just walked into the ring and very convincingly shut down Inoki. When you get past all the other variables of the night, there was just one powerful man who believed that Vader would become something great, that he would be able to bring in money, ratings, and asses. Perhaps the monster’s legacy hadn’t grown, but it had certainly been sown. It’s tasted blood now, it wants more.
Next time, we’ll see where this night takes Big Van Vader.