Antonio Inoki wrestled the last match of his retirement tour against Don Frye at the Tokyo Dome, in one of his famouse “worked shoot” matches that blurred the line between reality and fiction.
This put an end to a near-40-year career for Inoki, that brought him to the very top of the professional wrestlign world and solidified him as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. His final match against Don Frye was received well, but the American fighter was forced to flee the country after the fight, in fear of retaliation from Inoki and his organized crime connections.
Antonio Inoki vs Don Frye
Antonio Inoki’s last match in his career was a typically “Inoki” one. Not content with his career as a legendary professional wrestler standing on its own, he instead wanted to promote the idea of “Inoki-ism” and Mixed-Martial Arts as he wound down his career.
Inoki’s retirement was a drawn out affair. He competed in a series of matches on a retirement tour from 1994 and 1998, engaging in a series of MMA-style matches, reliving some of his favorite matches from his career. Inoki also took part in a number of dream matches in pro-wrestling, which included a match with William Regal at WCW Clash of the Champions in 1994.
At the end of this series of retirement matches, Antonio Inoki vs Don Frye was to be the end of his iconic career. Frye was an MMA star who was one of the first big fighters in the UFC, as well as becoming a household name in Japan for his matches with fighters like Yoshihiro Takayama and Ken Shamrock in PRIDE. He left the world of MMA to become a professional wrestler in 1997, as part of Inoki’s attempt to blur the lines between MMA and wrestling.
The match was interesting, to say the least. Taking place at the “NJPW The Final Inoki Tournament” event in the Tokyo Dome, the clash between Don Frye and Antonio Inoki was a match that most modern fans will not recognize as professional wrestling at all, thinking of it as something like Mixed-Martial Arts instead.
The Antonio Inoki vs Don Frye match began with Frye laying in some jabs into Inoki, before the Japanese tried a flying kick that failed to land. More punches in the corner followed, before Don Frye lifted Inoki above his head and dumped him onto his back onto the mat.
This was the only wrestling throw in the match, as the rest of bout would just see the pair trading submission moves. The pair traded submissions, with Frye turning a headlock into an armbar before being wrestled into Inoki’s patented Octopus Stretch. This match looked like a real fight, but was actually a “worked shoot”, which was a specialty of Inoki’s. It lasted a little over four minutes, despite both men being in tremendous shape for the bout.
Frye managed to mount Inoki and began pounding him with punches from above, but the WWE Hall of Famer managed to reverse it, hitting some punches of his own before getting to his feet and nailing a dropkick onto his opponent. Inoki then locked in the Octopus Stretch onto Don Frye, making him pass out as the referee called the match and announced Antonio Inoki as the winner in his last ever match (which is classic Inoki booking, to say the least).
After the match, Antonio Inoki was given his flowers, soaking in the admiration of the 70,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome on April 4, 1998. At the time, this was the largest ever gate for a pro-wrestling show, showing just how immensely respected Antonio Inoki was as a wrestler. He would wrestle the odd match now-and-then over the next few years, with Antonio Inoki’s last match coming against an old friend in 2003, but his career was over as a full-time wrestler.
However, this was not the end of the night for Don Frye.
Don Frye Thought Antonio Inoki Would Kill Him After His Last Match
After losing in Antonio Inoki’s last match at the Tokyo Dome, Don Frye made a quick escape back to the United States. The MMA fighter accidentally broke the ribs of Inoki during the “worked shoot” match, and feared retaliation from the Japanese star (especially with the links between pro wrestling and the Yazuka in Japan).
However, while sitting on the plane ready to leave Japan, Don Frye received a phone call from Inoki at the airport. While fearing the worst, Inoki simply thanked him for appearing in the match with him, sending him back to the US with a huge sigh of relief.
Don Frye spoke about this on the Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling Podcast, where he said this about the Don Frye vs Antoni Inoki match.
“I was lucky to get off that island. I swear I thought I was gonna get killed, I really did. You turn a great career into a five-minute match and then nobody talked to me. I broke his ribs and then afterward at the retirement event, he stands in the middle of the ring, and you’ve got 50 dignitaries, big names, what have you, come in and he has to bow, stand back up, reach out to grab the flowers, bring them to his chest, bow again and turn to the side, hand the flowers to the girl, turn back to the side and bow again. It was like an hour!”
“I was like ‘Oh my god’. The whole way I was like ‘They’re gonna kill us Molly. They’re gonna kill us. We gotta get off this island!’. We finally get ot the airport – the whole ride to the airport was quiet. Nobody said a word to us. We were ready to go through security. We were almost there, waiting to get on the plane, and a couple of people came up to and said ‘Oh, you’re Don Frye!’.”
“They close the doors of the plane, and next thing I know there’s a tap on my shoulder, and the stewardess says ‘Mr Frye-san. There’s a phone call for you in the airport. You have to take it’.”
“So I walk over there and get the phone and it’s Inoki-san. He said ‘Don, I want to thank you for doing the match for me. It was very important, a very great honor, thank you very much’.”
“Anybody who has enough power to shut down an international airport – they’re connected. I put down that phone and sprinted back onto the plane. I had to get out of there!”