wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: What is Inoki-ism?

October 5, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Antonio Inoki Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Gilles is timely:

I just heard that Antonio Inoki passed away. So my question is: What exactly is Inokism?

“Inokism” is a term typically used to describe how Antonio Inoki booked New Japan Pro Wrestling in the early 2000s. It was a pretty disastrous approach that came close to killing NJPW and, by extension, wrestling in Japan as a whole.

In the early 2000s, mixed marital arts was on fire in the country, particularly PRIDE. Inoki, whose match with Muhammad Ali is widely credited with creating modern MMA, was a huge fan of the sport and decided that there needed to be more intermingling between NJPW and shoot fighting.

This lead to two things that did not play well with fans of pro graps. First off, MMA fighters were brought in to have worked matches in New Japan. They were often put over pure wrestlers, and, because the MMA fighters had only a minimum of training in how to put on a worked match, their bouts were not of nearly the same quality that NJPW fans had become used to.

The second and perhaps larger issue is that pro wrestlers were sent in to MMA with some pretty terrible results. For example, Tadao Yasuda, who was a low card wrestler in the 1990s, managed to pick up a couple of MMA wins, which lead to Inoki strapping a rocket to his ass in NJPW and putting the IWGP Championship on him in a reign that was not well-received at all. Similarly, Shinsuke Nakamura won some MMA fights when he was a rookie pro wrestler and was almost immediately made into an IWGP Champ, which fans resented because he was not seen as an established enough star to be holding the belt. (Years later, Nakamura did eventually redeem himself in the eyes of NJPW fans.)

Additionally, bright New Japan prospects who fans DID get behind, like Yuji Nagata, were de-pushed in wrestling after suffering MMA losses.

The whole thing was a total mess, and, fortunately, the promotion eventually did bounce back after Inoki was taken out of power. He was a huge star, the founder of the promotion, and a revolutionary figure in combat sports, but, when he fell out of touch with wrestling fans, he did more damage to his own company then even Vince McMahon did when he fell out of touch.

Ray is part of the youth movement:

Going back a few weeks to NXT Worlds Collide. The announcers were making a big deal about how young Bron Breaker (24) and Tyler Bate (25) are. With a combined age of 49 years, I can’t think of any title match with that low of combined ages. Am I correct in thinking that’s the youngest one-on-one title match ever, even if you limit it to major promotions?

Nope, it’s not.

I didn’t do a comprehensive search to try to figure out what the youngest match was (because that wasn’t the question), and instead I just thought about individuals who I knew were particularly young champions in major promotions to see if I could find a bout with a lower combined age.

I came across one rather quickly, and it’s from the granddaddy of them all.

Specifically, take a look at Wrestlemania XIV, which took place on March 29, 1998 in Boston Massachusetts. That card featured a WWF Light Heavyweight Title match in which champion TAKA Michinoku retained over Aguila. TAKA was born on October 26, 1973, so he was 24 years old at the time, and Aguila was born on December 10, 1977, so he was 20 years old at the time. That’s a combined age of 44 years old, a full five years younger than the Breaker/Bate encounter.

I’m sure that I could come up with more if I did a deeper dive, but the Worlds Collide match certainly isn’t the record holder.

JonFW2 is watching old Drew Carey Show episodes in syndication:

Dolph, Mike the Miz, Erik, Gargano, and now Logan Paul…does any city have more wrestlers representing it in WWE than Cleveland, Ohio?

I feel like I answer too many questions in this column with “it depends,” but . . . it depends.

Only two of the wrestlers you’ve listed – Dolph Ziggler and Erik – are from Cleveland proper. The remainder are from suburbs: Mike the Miz (Parma), Logan Paul (Westlake), and Johnny Gargano (Lakewood). Plus, there’s one person you forgot, namely Dana Brooke, who is from the Cleveland suburb of Seven Hills, Ohio.

If you want to include the ‘burbs, then, yes, Cleveland has more wrestlers on the WWE roster than anybody else right now.

However, if you only want to count people from the city itself, then Charlotte, North Carolina takes top honors, as it was the birthplace of Cedric Alexander, Cody Rhodes, R-Truth, and, of course, Charlotte Flair.

New York City also bests Cleveland if you throw out the suburbs, as NYC can claim Damian Priest, Zelina Vega, and Karrion Kross as its own.

Still, that’s a surprisingly large number of wrestlers from the Buckeye State in the world’s largest wrestling promotion.

Clyde is looking back into the past, when we were all we had:

With every thing laid on the line, why couldn’t Wrestlemania I be made up of “good cards”, perhaps, like Santana vs. Valentine, and why put in people that weren’t WWF regulars at the time? I adore that Santana was part of the first Mania match, cause I mark for him to this day, but Executioner?

If it was me, I would be throwing everything that stuck, course, it’s easy for me to say almost 40 years later.

It’s just a difference in mentalities about how to book major wrestling cards. Look at any significant WWWF/WWF card from prior to Wrestlemania. They were never loaded top to bottom like they sometimes are now. The top match, or from time to time the top two or three matches, were the ones that were seen as important to drawing the house, and everything else was window dressing.

And, frankly, I think the older mentality makes more sense. There is a finite number of matches that are going to draw. If that’s the case, why burn through eight to ten of them on one show when you can use just two or three and get the same financial result?

RayS‘s question has nothing to do with the identity of the White Rabbit . . . or does it?

Why does Orange Cassidy come out to “Jane” by Jefferson Starship?

It’s because Cassidy’s look is based on Paul Rudd’s character from the 2001 comedy film “Wet Hot American Summer,” and “Jane” features prominently in that movie’s soundtrack.

It’s the modern version of Mark Henry’s “Sexual Chocolate” theme being made to sound like Isaac Hayes after that gimmick was based on Chef from South Park.

Tyler from Winnipeg misses 100% of the shots he doesn’t take:

I’m a big Wayne Gretzky fan so, who did Bill Goldberg defeat during his undefeated streak at #99?

If you start the streak with Goldberg’s television debut against Hugh Morrus on September 22, 1997, the answer appears to be Chavo Guerrero Jr. on the June 8, 1998 episode of Monday Nitro, held at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan.

I should say that this is a little bit wonky for two reasons. First off, this is not the 99th match that Goldberg had after debuting on TV. It’s the 100th. However, Goldberg had one match in his run up to his point that he did NOT win, namely an October 27, 1997 bout against Disco Inferno that ended in a no contest. This means that, even though he was undefeated, you have to go to the 100th match to find the 99th victory.

It’s also interesting to note that, on commentary, this is noted as the 99th win of the streak. Eventually, Goldberg’s number of wins was inflated, but that had not started yet.

Ross from Indianapolis is adding some muscle to get a bigger push:

The Osprey/Finlay match at NJPW Burning Spirit got me thinking: what New Japan wrestlers have held both the Jr. Heavyweight and the IWGP Heavyweight (or undisputed title or whatever it is now) titles in their careers? Shingo, Osprey, Omega, Ibushi, and Naito are a few obvious recent ones, but I bet there are a bunch more.

For extra credit, what WWE and WCW wrestlers have held the Cruiserweight/Light Heavyweight title and the WWE/WCW world title in their careers? Mysterio, Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, and maaaaybe Jeff Hardy jump to mind. Who am I missing?

First off, just to clarify, from June 12, 1987 through March 4, 2021, the top singles championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling was the IWGP Heavyweight Title. On March 4 of last year, the championship, which since January 5, 2020 had been unified with the IWGP Intercontinental Title, was renamed the IWGP World Heavyweight Title, which is recognized as the beginning of a new lineage. I can’t say that I agree with that change, but it’s how the company chose to do it.

Anyway, let’s switch to junior heavyweight champions who have later become heavyweight champions. When discussing the IWGP Championships, there have only been four men in history to do this.

The first person to win both divisions’ belts was Nobuhiko Takada, who won the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title on May 19, 1986 and then became IWPG Heavyweight Champion on January 4, 1996 after going away for a while and becoming a bigger star in the UWF.

Believe it or not, Takada’s feat would not be replicated until June 9, 2018, when Kenny Omega became the IWGP Heavyweight Champion after having previously won the Junior Heavyweight Title for the first time on January 4, 2015. Then, on January 2, 2021, Kota Ibushi grabbed his first Heavyweight Title after becoming a Junior Champ on June 18, 2011. Finally, Will Ospreay claimed the renamed IWPG World Heavyweight Championship on April 4, 2021, having previously been a Junior Heavyweight Champion on October 9, 2017.

Though Shingo Takagi and Tetsuya Naito are mentioned in the question, those two men were never IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. They were certainly considered competitors in the junior heavyweight division at one point, but they never won the title.

On the WCW/WWE side of things, Ross did hit most of them. Rey Misterio Jr., Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero are all former WCW Cruiserweight Champions who went on to hold some version of a World Championship in WWE. Also, Jeff Hardy is in fact a former WWF Light Heavyweight Champion who later became a World Champion.

The name that Ross left off his list is Christian Cage, who won the WWF Light Heavyweight Title in 1998 from TAKA Michinoku and lost it a month later to Gillberg. Many years later, he won the World Heavyweight Championship.

Finally, there is one more name we can put on the list with a bit of an asterisk. There was a version of the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship that existed from 1981 through 1997 but was almost never referenced on WWF television and was instead controlled by Mexican and later Japanese promotions that the Fed had working relationships with. It was discontinued in ’97 when the WWF created the version of the LHW belt that was originally held by TAKA. One of the individuals who held that original Light Heavyweight Title was Chris Benoit, who traded it with Villano III in Mexico in 1991 and 1992. Of course, he would become a World Heavyweight Champ in 2004.

Bret is my kayfabe cousin:

Why was Ole Anderson excluded from the Four Horsemen induction in the WWE Hall of Fame? I know he had heat with Vince McMahon, but he wasn’t even mentioned at all like he didn’t exist.

It’s because Ole didn’t want to be involved. In more than one interview over the years, he’s been adamant that he wants nothing to do with WWE as a whole, let alone its Hall of Fame.

Bryan is the next big thing:

Brock Lesnar was a highly decorated amateur wrestler before breaking into pro wrestling, and his lack of mic skills was covered by having Paul Heyman speak for him. Dan Severn had just as impressive credentials in combat sports and had Corny speaking for him . . . so why did he not find the same level of success?

There are a couple of different factors at play here. First off, Severn was just not as exciting a pro wrestler as Lesnar. Though neither one of them was a knockout promo and both of them had top-flight managers, Brock had far more charisma than Severn did. Even though some fans use the terms interchangeably, charisma and mic skills are two different things. Charisma refers more to the way you carry yourself and portray a personality, which has just as much to do with your body language as it does with your speaking ability. You can have a presence and charisma that captures an audience’s attention without being able to speak well. Lesnar developed that skill fairly early on in his career, and Severn never fully did.

In addition to being a more exciting personality, Brock was a more exciting in-ring performer. He utilized a high impact array of suplexes, powerbombs, and throws, whereas Severn’s offense was more mat-based and realistic. Some wrestling fans do appreciate that style (myself included), but it is not what the WWF had conditioned the majority of its viewers to accept.

Age also plays into things. When Brock made his main roster debut in WWE, he was 24 years old. When Severn made his debut on WWF television, he had just turned 39. More and more, it does seem like there are wrestlers having success even into their 50s, but the “sport” is still by and large a young man’s game, and that was even more the case 20 to 25 years ago.

Finally, we can’t pretend that there weren’t some political forces at play. Lesnar was the kind of guy that executives like Jim Ross and Gerald Brisco loved because of his amateur background, and he was the kind of guy that Vince McMahon could get behind because of his monstrous physical presence. Meanwhile, Severn was tied to Cornette at a time when Cornette was at odds with Vince Russo and Russo was reportedly trying to actively embarrass him on TV.

And that’s how two men with fairly similar backgrounds wind up having two completely different WWF/WWE careers.

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.