Antonio Inoki is one of the most important figures in Japanese Wrestling history. In fact, he is one of the most respected wrestlers in the history of the business.
He founded New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972 after was fired from JWA (Japanese Pro Wrestling Association) after failing a takeover of the company
. Fellow Japanese star Giant Baba was also fired, and went on to form the rival All Japan Pro Wrestling. Inoki became a three time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, and went on to face a host of huge stars, including an infamous match against sporting icon Muhammed Ali.
But, did you know that Antonio Inoki won the WWF Championship in 1979? It’s a reign not respected by WWE and has been scrapped from the record books, but here is what happened.
Antonio Inoki WWF Champion
November 30, 1979
In a match against Bob Backlund in Tokushima, Japan, Antonio Inoki won the WWF Championship. In a nearly 30 minute encounter, Inoki won the match due to outside help to disctract Backlund. Tiger Jeet Singh, the Indo-Canadian wrestling legend, ran to ringside, distracting WWF Champion Bob Backlund and allowing Inoki to pin him for the victory.
The finish was a little contrived and after a 28 minute match, seemed a cheap way to take the title off of Backlund. But it didn’t matter. Inoki was the new WWF Champion, and he won it slap bang in the middle of Backlund’s famous five year run with the Championship.
December 6, 1979
A week later, the pair again in a rematch for the Championship. Backlund this time would be victorious in the ring. However, then WWF President Hishashi Shinma declared the result null and void and declared the match a no contest. This was due to interference from Tiger Jeet Singh again, although that did not matter when Inoki won the title the week prior.
WWF Champion Antonio Inoki would vacate the championship that same night, or so the story goes. Backlund would win the Championship back, which was vacant at the time, two weeks later. He defeated Bobby Duncum at Madison Square Garden in a Texas Death Match on December 17, 1979.
However, on December 9, 1979, Backlund faced WWF Intercontinental Pat Patterson in Toronto. He was billed as the WWF Champion, despite the fact that the title was vacant and he would win it 8 days later. Backlund lost by count out to Patterson in the Maple Leaf Gardens.
In his book, entitled “Backlund”, Bob Backlund claimed that he dropped the title to Inoki for political reasons. Inoki, the founder and head booker of New Japan Pro Wrestling, was in deep competition with All Japn Pro Wrestling’s Giant Baba. Baba had two runs with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, so Inoki wanted a similar title run to match his great rival.
It was agreed that he would win the belt then drop it back to Backlund, but Inoki had other ideas. Rumours of what actually happened are numerous. One rumour states that Inoki refused to lose the title back to Backlund. This was believable. Inoki was known to book himself as the top star in the country, and would regularly put himself over all the stars on his show.
Another theory is that Inoki himself refused to acknowledge the reign, due to the interference in both matches. He conceded that he was not a proper champion, and vacated the belt. At least they didn’t have to get the belt off like in the original Montreal Screwjob.
Why do WWE not recognise this reign?
Despite their being actual video evidence of Inoki being the WWF Champion, WWE refuse to acknowledge it. Due to the title reign being slap bang in the middle of Backlund’s famous five year title run, it makes Backlund look much less impressive in the record books.
In the end, it’s just another case of classic WWE revisionist history. We all know that Inoki beat Backlund for the WWF Championship. It is an undisputed fact it happened. Just because you can claim “it doesn’t count” doesn’t mean it doesn’t.
Just like how WWE don’t count Jimmy Snuka as the first ECW Champion, it doesn’t make Shane Douglas suddenly the first ECW Champion. Antonio Inoki as WWF Champion is a fact as far as I am concerned.
To watch that match, click here