When Ric Flair Traveled to North Korea for the Biggest Wrestling Show of All Time

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Whether he was in a dimly lit convention center in front of a few dozen people or headlining packed arenas around the globe, the thrill of a hot crowd was more than enough motivation to keep “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair in the ring decade after decade.

Decked out in his signature fluttering robes, Flair became the face of '80s pro wrestling through his athletic prowess, showmanship, and the machismo-soaked poetry he spewed at the microphone. So when the opportunity arose for him to perform against the most popular wrestler in Japan’s history in front of more than 150,000 fans, Flair couldn’t resist.

There was just one catch: The match would take place in North Korea, in front of a sea of people who didn’t know who Ric Flair was, much less what American professional wrestling was all about. It was the first time an American wrestling company would visit the "Hermit Kingdom," and what followed was a rare glimpse into a notoriously reclusive regime for a star-studded event that has been lost to time.

The show, which took place on April 28 and 29, 1995, was dubbed the International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace by the North Korean government. For a country that is usually intent on keeping outsiders away, inviting 300,000-plus people to cram into Pyongyang's massive May Day Stadium over the course of the two-day event seemed to be an about-face for the notoriously secretive regime.

"American tourists are almost never granted visas," wrote The New York Times's Sheila Melvin in 1996. "Yet less than a year after [Kim Il-sung's] death, North Korea was allowing outsiders to attend an International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. Perhaps it was an effort to showcase a North Korea ruled by Kim Jong Il."

The key to uniting communist North Korea with American grapplers was the legendary Japanese wrestler—and embattled politician—Antonio Inoki. With his political career in limbo, Inoki saw participation in this event as a prime opportunity for a diplomatic win in Japan due to his positive relationship with the North Korean government. He was, after all, a protégé of the iconic wrestler Rikidōzan, who had become something of a propaganda symbol in North Korea following his death in 1963.

To make the show the global spectacle that the North Korean government wanted it to be, Inoki, who ran New Japan Pro Wrestling, set out to gather up some of the marquee names in American wrestling. He got in touch with Eric Bischoff, president of America's World Championship Wrestling (WCW). The two had a working relationship, and Inoki wanted Bischoff to bring some of his best talent to North Korea to perform; Bischoff happily agreed. He even got Bischoff to convince Muhammad Ali, a one-time opponent of Inoki's, to join them in greeting the crowd.


Antonio Inoki

By 1995, Bischoff’s WCW was playing a never-ending game of catch-up against Vince McMahon’s WWE (formerly WWF), so an opportunity to see his organization showcased at such a large event—and in such a hostile country—had the potential to be a defining moment for the company. While WWE dominated the U.S. wrestling scene by teaming up with MTV in the '80s, a show in North Korea could potentially get WCW worldwide attention.

The key to the show was Inoki wrestling in the main event against an American star. Originally, he approached Bischoff about getting Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling at the time. “So I asked Hulk, and I might as well have asked him to row a boat to Pluto," Bischoff told Sports Illustrated. "It was not gonna happen.”

With Hogan out, Bischoff approached Flair. Viewing a match against the legendary Inoki as another coup in an already stellar career, Flair readily agreed. The trip promised two things he lived for: pro wrestling and the type of adventure he could talk about—and embellish upon—for years to come.

“I just thought, number one, it’d be cool to travel with Muhammad Ali," Flair told USA Today in 2014. "Number two, it was a challenge, and I just thought it would be an experience to remember later in life.”

Flair wasn’t the only performer headed to North Korea; he was joined by other ‘90s wrestling mainstays, including Road Warrior Hawk, the Steiner Brothers, Chris Benoit (under the guise of Wild Pegasus), Scott Norton, and 2 Cold Scorpio.


Paul Kane/Getty Images

The trip got off to an ominous start. When WCW consultant Sonny Onoo informed the Japanese embassy of the trip, he was told, “You understand we cannot guarantee your safety.” The warning fell on deaf ears, and a rickety military transport plane soon brought the group from Japan to the heart of North Korea’s communist government.

Upon landing, “almost immediately, they separated us into groups of two and assigned each of us a handler, or 'minder' as they called it,” Bischoff recalled. Everyone was stripped of their passports and subjected to a carefully manicured tour of the country, including paying their respects to the late Kim Il-sung, North Korea's Supreme Leader until his death in 1994.

After being indoctrinated with a speech on their “Great Leader,” the government officials gave Bischoff and his fellow wrestlers flowers to leave in front of a statue of Kim Il-sung.

“They buy it for you and then charge you," Orville Schell, who reported on the event for the Asia Society, told Sports Illustrated. "You have to put it in front of the statue and then they take videos of you. And then they take the flowers back and sell them to the next guy.”


Scott Steiner
Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

When it came time for the actual event to start, even the wrestlers—some of whom had been doing this for decades—were at a loss.

“The first time I got on the ropes and looked out there, I looked to the very top of the stadium,” wrestler Scott Steiner told Sports Illustrated. “They were like toothpicks, that’s how small they were. I was like, 'Wow, I can barely see them, how are they seeing me?' It was mind-blowing. But it was a fleeting moment. After that, I locked into the match.”

Despite the size of the crowd (which was rumored to be 150,000 on the first day and 190,000 on day two, though reports vary), the audience remained almost completely silent throughout the event—a far cry from the nonstop chants and cheers the American wrestlers were used to. But there was good reason for that: They likely had no idea what they were even watching.

“I think initially they expected it to be more like amateur wrestling,” Flair said. “[They] would ask me how [these wrestlers] could do this to somebody, you know, a wrestling move. I would say ‘I don’t know, they couldn’t do it to me.’ They probably thought they were getting duped a little bit.”

Even Muhammad Ali, who was “essentially a political prop” for the event, got a positive, albeit unremarkable, reaction from the people when he waved from his seat, according to CNN’s Mike Chinoy, a reporter brought over to cover the show.

Of course, when you want a reaction, there are few in the history of the wrestling industry better than the show’s headliners. Flair/Inoki main-evented the second night, with Inoki getting the win over Flair in about 15 minutes. More impressive than a choreographed melee between two legends was the fact that they had the audience in the palms of their hands. The two had put butts in arena seats all over the globe for decades, and even in an unfamiliar communist country, they hit their marks.

“Those two guys go out there and took that crowd from nothing to pandemonium. It was just amazing,” wrestler Scott Norton, who was the main event during the first night, said.

As with everything on the show, there were motives outside of just a fantastic match. One specific photo from the match—of a battered Flair being slammed around by an enraged Inoki—became part of a deluge of North Korean propaganda leaflets that were dropped over Seoul in late 1995.

After the final bell rang, the fight wasn’t over—at least not for the cadre of weary American wrestlers looking to get back home. Before they were able to return to Japan, then make their way back to the U.S., the North Korean government made one very unsettling request of Flair: They wanted him to read a statement basically saying that after visiting North Korea, he understood that the country could dominate the United States.

Flair refused to recite their requested language, but agreed to make a more diplomatic statement, praising this “beautiful and peaceful country” and saying, “His Excellency, Kim Il-sung, will always be with us.”

Even though it broke the all-time attendance record for a wrestling event, there wasn’t much to celebrate: In the United States, the event hadn't garnered much curiosity, and there were only scattered news reports covering its aftermath. To the wrestlers, it was just another show. Later on that year, WCW released part of the event as a U.S. pay-per-view special titled Collision in Korea; the event drew 30,000 buys—a paltry sum in comparison to the company’s other shows. What should have been a political moment draped in neon spandex soon faded into obscurity.

In 2001, McMahon’s WWE bought WCW and its tape library, yet the company rarely references the event, nor has it ever released Collision in Korea on its expansive WWE Network, which features nearly every other WCW show. There are theories about why the event seemed to disappear: WWE likes to maintain the claim that the company’s WrestleMania III, which drew (a disputed) 93,173 fans to Michigan's Pontiac Silverdome in 1987, holds one of the highest attendances for a wrestling show. Having a rival's event in North Korea basically double that number in just a single day might hurt the prestige of their own accomplishment.

According to wrestling historian Dave Meltzer, “WWE, they want to claim these records, so this kind of hurts that narrative." Bischoff was more blunt, saying the North Korea show is simply “an inconvenient fact for the branding and the positioning that the WWE is so great at.”

Despite feeling like hostages in a foreign country and wrestling to near-silence in front of a confused audience, there’s no denying the significance of the event—even if the world has seemingly forgotten all about it.

“Were they paying customers? I don’t think so,” Bischoff said. “Maybe. But the fact is, over the course of two nights, 350,000 people came to a stadium and watched professional wrestling with some of the biggest stars of the time. I think that’s a phenomenal achievement.”

This Outdoor Lantern Will Keep Mosquitoes Away—No Bug Spray Necessary

Thermacell, Amazon
Thermacell, Amazon

With summer comes outdoor activities, and with those activities come mosquito bites. If you're one of the unlucky people who seem to attract the insects, you may be tempted to lock yourself inside for the rest of the season. But you don't have to choose between comfort and having a cocktail on the porch, because this lamp from Thermacell ($25) keeps outdoor spaces mosquito-free without the mess of bug spray.

The device looks like an ordinary lantern you would display on a patio, but it works like bug repellent. When it's turned on, a fuel cartridge in the center provides the heat needed to activate a repellent mat on top of the lamp. Once activated, the repellent in the mat creates a 15-by-15-foot bubble of protection that repels any mosquitos nearby, making it a great option for camping trips, days by the pool, and backyard barbecues.

Mosquito repellent lantern.

Unlike some other mosquito repellents, this lantern is clean, safe, and scent-free. It also provides light like a real lamp, so you can keep pests away without ruining your backyard's ambience.

The Thermacell mosquito repellent lantern is now available on Amazon. If you've already suffered your first mosquito bites of the summer, here's some insight into why that itch can be so excruciating.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

18 Cool Facts About Beavis and Butt-head

MTV
MTV

On March 8, 1993, Beavis and Butt-head made its debut on MTV—to the delight of young viewers, and the annoyance of their parents. While some people considered it the end of the civilized world, TIME Magazine critic Kurt Andersen lauded its irreverence, writing that it “may be the bravest show ever run on national television.”

From its original 200-episode run to the books (yes, plural), movie, and soundtrack it inspired—plus its brief return in 2011—Beavis and Butt-head has not lost any of its original charm. With the recent announcement that the series is coming back for two new seasons on Comedy Central, here are some things you might not have known about Mike Judge's animated headbangers.

1. Beavis and Butt-head got their start on Liquid Television.

Mike Judge went from teaching himself animation and playing bass for Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets to having one of his cartoons played on MTV’s animation showcase program Liquid Television in one year’s time. Cartoon short Milton, the origin of the character from his live-action cult classic Office Space, appeared in a 1991 episode. In 1992, Beavis and Butt-head made their loud, violent first impression in his short Frog Baseball. MTV then paid Judge for the rights to the two characters and ordered 65 four-minute cartoons.

2. MTV pulled Beavis and Butt-head from the air shortly after it premiered.

Shortly after greenlighting Beavis and Butt-head, MTV had to halt production. Not because of any controversy, but because Judge and his animation staff couldn’t keep up with the demand for new material, forcing MTV to stop airing the show entirely two weeks after it premiered. It made its return more than six weeks later on May 17th with “Scientific Stuff” and “Good Credit.”

3. Mike Judge improvised most of the dialogue during the music videos.


Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Judge voiced virtually all of the characters on the show and was one of just a handful of people who made up the writing staff. He opted to add to his workload by winging it when it came to Beavis and Butt-head's taste-making opinions on music. Time was saved on the animation for the music video commentaries by having an editor take footage from earlier episodes and sync it up with new mouth positions.

4. Beavis and Butt-head were named after kids that lived in Mike Judge's neighborhood.

Bobby Beavis was “kind of an athletic kid” that lived three blocks from Judge while he was in college, and not similar to the character with the Metallica shirt christened with his surname. There was also a 12-year-old who called himself “Iron Butt” (because he claimed to never get injured from a kick to the posterior) who had a friend called “Butt-head.”

5. All references to fire were permanently removed from Beavis and Butt-head after the show was blamed for a child's death.

In October 1993, a 5-year-old boy set fire to his Ohio home, which killed his 2-year-old sister. Their mother claimed Beavis’s fire-making and blatant spoken love of arson were responsible. MTV’s quick response was to only air the show after 10:30 p.m. and to wipe all fire references from all of the previous episodes—only fans who taped the offending episodes on their VCRs have proof that the word was ever uttered. “Fire” was banned for the rest of the series’ original run, but it was allowed again in 2011.

6. A senator referred to Beavis and Butt-head as "Buffcoat and Beaver."

Soon after the fatal fire accident, Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, spoke at a Senate hearing as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Hollings attempted to argue that TV broadcasters needed to be forced to clamp down on their offensive programming and used the most controversial show at the time as a specific example ... or at least he tried to.

7. Prison officials in Oklahoma banned Beavis and Butt-head.

There were also documented reports of South Dakota schools outlawing Beavis and Butt-head-related clothing.

8. Marlon Brando was a Beavis and Butt-head fan.

According to Mike Judge, Johnny Depp told him that Depp and Marlon Brando would imitate Beavis and Butt-head, with Depp as Beavis and Brando as Butt-head. This occurred when the two worked together during 1994’s Don Juan DeMarco.

9. Matt Groening was a fan of Beavis and Butt-head, too.

The creator of The Simpsons claimed that he liked the show because it took “the heat off Bart Simpson being responsible for the downfall of western civilization.”

10. David Letterman was the voice of the Mötley Crüe roadie who might be Butt-head's father in Beavis and Butt-head Do America.

David Letterman was credited as Earl Hofert, which is actually the name of Letterman's uncle. Letterman was a fan of the show and had the Highland teens on The Late Show in 1996 to promote their movie.

11. Beavis almost said something too clever once.

In 1993, Judge told The New York Times that one of the big challenges of the show was to keep the two in character and, therefore, dumb. An original line had Beavis telling his classmates that they had “Beavis envy” because he received a school pass. It was cut because it almost made the 14-year-old with the underbite too smart. In 2011, Judge admitted to “cheating” and probably making them smarter than they are during the music video commentaries.

12. Daria was created with Janeane Garofalo and Darlene Connor in mind.

The character of Daria was created after then-MTV president Judy McGrath expressed concern about the show’s lack of smart or female characters. Garofalo and Sara Gilbert’s Roseanne character were the models for Daria Morgendorffer. Morgendorffer was the maiden name of the show writer David Felton's mother, and was deemed perfect for the new character.

13. It's Butt-head's house that you're usually seeing.


MTV

While it isn’t officially canon, Judge responded to a reporter’s assumption that the two were always at Butt-head’s abode by saying he “always imagined” that to be the case.

14. Beavis and Butt-head were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone—three times.

Their first appearance in 1993 ended up being the best-selling issue of the magazine that year.

15. Beavis and Butt-head starred in their own live-action Thanksgiving special with Kurt Loder.

The night before their (first) series finale, “Beavis and Butt-head Are Dead," MTV put Beavis and Butt-head in charge of broadcasting the Thanksgiving Day Parade, then later put them at a dinner table with the veteran MTV News broadcaster. The one-hour special only aired on television once.

16. Beavis and Butt-head ended due to creative burnout.

Toward the end of the show's original run, Judge was running on empty. "I actually wanted to stop a little sooner," Judge told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. "We've done over 200 episodes [since 1993]. After the second season, I thought, 'How are we gonna do this anymore?' I was completely burnt out. I got a second wind in season three, and again in season five. But I don't know, you do it as fast as you can, get it on the air as fast as you can, and there's never a break. I felt, like, why not retire before it gets too stale or whatever?"

17. Kanye West wanted to be on Beavis and Butt-head.

In contrast to the more innocent 1990s, Judge and his team had to get authorization from all of the parties involved in a music video to have it appear on Beavis and Butt-head when it returned in 2011. Kanye West wanted to have one of his videos featured on the show, but another credited songwriter on the undisclosed track declined immortality.

18. Beavis and Butt-head is coming back for today's generation.

In July 2020, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Beavis and Butt-head is coming back for two all-new seasons, this time to Comedy Central. Mike Judge will oversee the series yet again, but this time it will be geared toward a "whole new Gen Z world."

"We are thrilled to be working with Mike Judge and the great team at 3 Arts again as we double down on adult animation at Comedy Central," Chris McCarthy, president of ViacomCBS' entertainment and youth group, said. "Beavis and Butt-Head were a defining voice of a generation, and we can’t wait to watch as they navigate the treacherous waters of a world light-years from their own."

This story has been updated for 2020.