Seven Things We Learned from Dark Side of the Ring’s: “Collision in Korea”

by Stephen Silver

Dark Side of the Ring – S3 Ep4 – “Collision in Korea” 

Did you know that WCW, in the spring of 1995, held a wrestling card in North Korea? I’m not sure I did, even though I followed wrestling pretty closely at the time. I don’t even think I know about the existence of the Collision in Korea until I read about it more than a decade later in Ric Flair’s autobiography. 

That bizarre event was the subject of the latest installment of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring on Thursday night, and it’s a natural for that series. WCW, a company owned at the time by Turner Broadcasting, visited one of the world’s few remaining Stalinist regimes? Perhaps one day Dark Side will examine WWE’s recent Faustian foray into Saudi Arabia, for another example of a wrestling company doing business with a murderous dictatorship. 

A few things we learned from the “Collision in Korea” episode: 

Dark Side of the Ring – S3 Ep4 – “Collision in Korea”
Image: Vice

It was part of Eric Bischoff’s international efforts 

The Collision in Korea came about at a time when WCW was still running behind the WWF, but then-executive Eric Bischoff felt the solution was to go more international. That made sense when Bischoff was bringing in wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling, which came from a country with a great wrestling tradition. But North Korea had much less of one. 

The event came about when Antonio Inoki, the Japanese wrestling legend-turned-politician, was looking to stage a massive international event between WCW and NJPW, which could double as a diplomatic breakthrough. 

It doesn’t appear, at any point, that anyone involved in the trip on WCW’s side had any degree whatsoever of political savvy or any idea what they were getting into. 

There was no government permission 

Bischoff says in the documentary that while he considered asking permission of the U.S. government to take the group to North Korea, he opted not to. The Clinton Administration, the year before, had had a tense nuclear negotiation standoff with the North Korean regime. 

Image: Vice

The Hulkster stayed home

Hulk Hogan, at that point, was relatively early on in his WCW run, as WWF stars from the decade prior began taking over the top spots in WCW. But the Hulkster opted not to participate in the North Korea excursion, meaning that the top American wrestlers on the card in Pyongyang were Ric Flair, the Steiner brothers, Scott Norton, and Road Warrior Hawk. 

The Greatest was there

Muhammad Ali, however, did agree to make the trip. Ali had once infamously had a wrestler/boxer match against Inoki in the 1970s, and the two reunited in North Korea, where Inoki faced off against Flair in their first-ever match.  

Inoki’s mentor was North Korean 

While he was Japanese, Inoki’s mentor, a wrestler known as Rikidōzan, was actually of North Korean descent. Known as The Father of Puroresu, Rikidōzan long kept his heritage a secret and was reportedly killed by the Yakuza in 1963. 

Not your usual wrestling travel 

The Dark Side series has shown a lot of crazy stuff that happens on the road in wrestling. But in North Korea, that’s not quite how it went. A group of wrestlers tried to play pool in their hotel and was confronted by government security. And one of the show’s main interviewees, minor NWO member Scott Norton, had a phone call to his wife intercepted by the government. Meanwhile, Road Warrior Hawk and 2 Cold Scorpio spent most of the visit in a series of fights with each other. 

The crowd had never seen wrestling

As icky as the WWE’s relationship with the Saudis is, at least one gets the sense that the crowds there have seen professional wrestling before. That wasn’t the case for the Collision in Korea, as the crowd appeared completely dead at least until Flair and Inoki got into the ring. 

It was (maybe) the largest wrestling show in history. 

Bischoff claims the event drew a total of over 300,000 spectators over the course of the two nights, although they were both non-paying and sort of compelled by their government to be there. But that figure likely only holds up if you believe two things – pro wrestling crowd size estimates, and the North Korean government — that you shouldn’t ever believe. 

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