Professional wrestling has grown from a circus and carnival act for wannabe strongmen to one of the biggest forms of entertainment all over the world, with nearly every country in the world hosting their own form of the sport.
Over the years, there have been an incredible amount of huge wrestling matches that drew in millions of fans and inspired countless wrestlers to take up the sport. Millions (even billions) of fans have watched some of the biggest bouts in history, causing a cultural shift in many different places.
But which match is really the most-watched wrestling match in history? Let’s look at all the matches that various promoters have claimed to be the biggest match ever, revealing which match has been watched by more people in the history of professional wrestling.
Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant
If you listen to the people in the WWE, the most-watched match in wrestling history is the iconic clash between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant on “The Main Event” in 1988. This clash for the WWE Championship saw Hulk Hogan being screwed out of his title, with the referee completely missing Hogan lifting his shoulder up from the pin fall at the one-count.
33-million viewers tuned in to NBC to see Hogan vs Andre, watching the French giant lift the WWE Championship for the only time in his iconic career. This reign lasted meer minutes, before he handed the belt over to “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. This made Andre The Giant the shortest-reigning WWE Champion of all time.
Read more about the most watched WWE match ever.
Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks
British wrestling fans will remember the titanic clashes every week on ITV between the heroic Big Daddy and the villainous Giant Haystacks. The two behemoths bumped bellies in front of millions of fans weekly, as they became (and remain) the most well-known wrestlers in the United Kingdom.
There are claims that their biggest clash at Wembley Arena drew 18 Million viewers on ITV. However, this is unsubstantiated, and no official ratings have ever been released for the match. It is still considered the biggest match in British wrestling, but we simply cannot take these claims at face value.
However, another match has been reported to have drawing between 16-to-20 million viewers on ITV. The 1962 Mick McManus vs Jackie Pallo match at Wembley Arena sold 12,500 tickets, as well as drawing a reported 20-million TV viewers (although some sources claim 16-million, which was still 3 million more than the FA Cup final that year). This was nearly half the population of the country at the time, making it an incredible achievement for all involved.
Antonio Inoki vs Muhammad Ali
With a boastful claim of over a billion viewers, Antonio Inoki happily claimed that his bout with boxing legend Muhammad Ali is the most watched wrestling match of all time. 54 million people in Japan watched the fight, including 14,500 tickets being sold in the arena, for the cross-promotional fight, which was closer to a modern-day MMA fight than pro wrestling.
Broadcast to 34 different countries, it has been claimed that 1.4 billion people watched the clash in 1976. This would be about 1/3rd of the population of the entire world at this point, which seems a ridiculous claim – even with the enduring popularity of Ali.
Still, it was surely seen by millions of millions, and may be the most-watched match in history. However, only 2 million people bought the pay per view in the United States – a huge number, but not touching the touted 1.4 billion people claimed.
Rikidozan vs The Destroyer
The biggest wrestling audience for a single match that we can accurately measure is one of the earliest main event matches in Japanese history. The Destroyer was one of the first American heels to become a household name in Japan, coming off the back of the huge defeat to them in World War II.
His 1963 bout with the father of Japanese wrestling, Rikidozan, that aired on December 2, 1963, would end up drawing an insane 64.0 rating – an astonishing number that will never be touched again (for contrast, the WWE could not draw more than a 10.0 rating during their domination in the Attitude Era).
At the time, this was defined as 64 percent of the people in Japan were estimated to have been watching the match, which was nearly 70 million people in total. More people in the country saw Rikidozan vs The Intelligent Sensational Destroyer than any other match in history, and made The Destroyer a celebrity in Japan until his death – he was even awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 2017, the highest civilian honor in the country.
This match took place just days before Rikidozan was killed by the Yazuka.