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Eric Bischoff On His Relationship With Antonio Inoki, Helping Inoki Reunite With Muhammad Ali

October 4, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Eric Bischoff Image Credit: WWE/Peacock

Eric Bischoff had a long business relationship with the late Antonio Inoki, and he recently recalled how they first met and how helping Inoki reunite with Muhammad Ali helped the situation. Bischoff appeared on Busted Open Radio and shared his memories of the late NJPW founder, noting how his helping Inoki get reacquainted with Ali — who Inoki famously fought in a boxing vs. wrestling fight in 1976 — went a long way to helping him repair the relationship between NJPW and WCW. You can check out some highlights below:

Eric Bischoff on his first meeting with Inoki: “I think it was probably late ’93, early ’94. I had been doing business with New Japan for a little while at that point, really trying to rebuild that relationship. Because it had — the relationship between WCW and New Japan had suffered quite a bit. There was some business issues between Bill Watts and New Japan. So I had to kind of fix that. And the initial relationship with New Japan was very tentative. I didn’t meet Antonio Inoki back then… Masa Saito was really the primary contact for bringing American wrestlers into Japan. And I was dealing primarily with Masa Saito at that point.

“But once the trust level got to a certain point, that’s when I met Antonio Inoki. And he was just — oh God, how would I describe that first meeting? He just was very gracious. I hate to use the word ‘elegant,’ but I can’t think of a different word right now. Just the way he carried himself, he had so much charisma, class and professionalism. He didn’t try to intimidate, he wasn’t trying to make sure I understood who he was in the big scheme of things in regard to the relationship between WCW and New Japan. He was just a very classy gentlemen, is the only way I can describe it.”

Eric Bischoff on how his relationship with Muhammad Ali opened the way to repair the the WCW and NJPW relationship: “One of the reasons why I was able to overcome — the Japanese culture is so different than our culture. And at every level, particularly when it comes to business. And because things deteriorated as badly as they had between — and there was a lot of money involved — between WCW and New Japan, I thought it was highly unlikely I was going to be able to kind of resurrect that relationship, because it was hostile. But one of the things that I think really helped turn a corner is, I got a call from Brad Riggins. Brad was kind of like the American liaison. He worked very closely with Masa Saito. And Brad Riggins and I had been friends since high school so we had a long relationship. Brad called me and said, ‘Hey, Mr. Inoki is coming to Denver, and he would really like to become reacquainted with Muhammad Ali.’ They had lost touch. There had not been any conversation subsequent to their fight back in whatever it was, 76, 75, I can’t remember. So they had completely lost touch. And I, the year before, had done some business with Muhammad Ali and had become — again, I don’t want to say friends, but friendly. I could call, I could talk to his wife.

“When Brad called and said, ‘Hey, Antonio is going to be in Denver. He would really, really love an opportunity to become reacquainted with Muhammad Ali,’ I called Muhammad’s wife and said, ‘Here’s the situation and Antonio Inoki would love to meet Muhammad, and here’s the dates.’ And next thing I know I’m sitting in a hotel room in Denver with Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki seeing each other for the first time since that fight. And I think me being able to make that happen and facilitate that probably went a long way for Antonio Inoki. And it was one year later that now I’m on a jet flying to Pyongyang, North Korea sitting next to Muhammad Ali.”

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Busted Open Radio with a h/t to 411mania.com for the transcription.