It’s always a great thing finding matches you never expected to have happened. Seeing two legends whose paths you never expected to cross find themselves accross the ring from each other, ready to lock horns, in something that every wrestling fan has to enjoy.
However, sometimes soon after, the actual match happens and yo become incredibly disappointed. This is the case when two of the biggest legends of the sport stepped into a NJPW ring together in 1995. Sting vs Antonio Inoki battled only once in their careers, crossing paths in the final match of the BVD Martial Arts Tournament.
It was a relic of the “Inoki-ism” that almost doomed New-Japan Pro Wrestling to failure. It featured faux-shoot fighting and was something that was more similar to a mix of amateur wrestling and MMA fights. While this became a huge part of his booking style in the 2000s, an early iteration of this style was made clear in this final match against former WCW Champion Sting.
Given the fact that Antonio Inoki booked the tournament, it was clear he was going to win He was never shy in making himself champion and winning all sorts of matches, so the real prize was seeing who would get to lose to him in the final. Sting was already a big star at the time, and was competing with Hulk Hogan in WCW to see who was the top dog. He had gone over to Japan for the tour and faced off with the legendary Antonio Inoki for the first (and thankfully last time) of either man’s careers.
The crowd was hot for the match. Despite being well past his prime (Inoki was 52 at the time of the bout), the chants of “INOKI! INOKI!” rang around the arena, as loud as they’d ever been heard. That was really where the match peaked, as the booking of the match made for one of the most boring matches you’ve ever seen someone as exciting as Sting compete in.
Sting vs Antonio Inoki
The match between Sting and Antonio Inoki was barely more than 10 minutes – although you’d be forgiven for thinking it went at least half an hour. While the current main event matches in NJPW feature incredibly fast paced action that doesn’t stop for anything and features incredibly intricate counters and reversals, elaborate high spots and interesting wrestling, Inoki in 1995 did not quite see it this way.
Instead, he decided that “slow plodding matches with only submissions” was the way forward. Yes, this was exactly how the match was booked, outside of the occasional punch, a few body slams and a single suplex. The phrase “less is more” is a commonly used one in pro-wrestling, but sometimes less is actually less and you need to actually do something.
Sting gets on the front foot at the beginning of the match and never loses it. He attacks the leg of Inoki and locks in submissions (STF, Figure Four Leg Lock, Scorpion Death Lock and single-leg Boston Crab) to further torture his opponent. That’s not the issue. The issue is he had these submissions locked in for minutes each, as the fans watched on as the Japanese star crawled as slowly as an iceberg toward the rope. He made it there every time.
This continued for the entirety of the match. Sting looked very out of sorts, not used to this style of terrible wrestling. His strength was always his dynamism and his charism, and exactly zero of that was being utilised by Inoki’s booking. Why the match was planned this way was clear – it was based off Inoki’s philosophy in pro-wrestling – but that doesn’t stop it being an incredibly boring watch.
Antonio Inoki beat Sting with his only offence being in the final seconds of the match. As Sting lifted him into the air for a slam, he reversed it into a sleeper hold and forced The Icon to pass out as the referee called for the end of the match. He won the tournament but put on one of the most painful matches to watch in NJPW history.
After Antonio Inoki’s death, Sting posted a tribute to the late Japanese legend. He stated it was “an honor and a privilege” to wrestle him in what was a touching moment from the AEW Star.
It was an honor and a privilege to share the ring with Antonio Inoki. A true legend and a great loss.