With interest in American celebrity visits to North Korea on the rise in the wake of Dennis Rodman’s visit earlier this month, retired professional wrestler Nature Boy Ric Flair has given an interview to an NBC affiliate in North Carolina detailing his own visit in 1995.
Flair’s own visit saw him taking part in a multi-day event by New Japan Professional Wrestling (NJPW) surrounding the May Day holiday. He wrestled Japanese legend Antonio Inoki on the main day of the event in front of an audience of 190,000, believed to be the largest indoor attendance for a single event in human history.
Despite Flair’s history of autobiographies and multi-hour interviews on his career, he has rarely discussed his role in the North Korea event in much detail. Today’s comments provide some unique insight into his own decision to go, and he notes that two US Senators at the time, Sens. Jesse Helms (R – NC) and Strom Thurmond (R – SC), the head of the Foreign Relations Committee and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, respectively, advised him against going.
The wrestling match was a relatively straightforward 10 minute event, noteworthy primarily for its participants and its location. Flair reveals new details related to the rest of the trip, however, including that he and the other athletes had their telephones confiscated mid-visit after somebody described human rights conditions there. He likewise talks about North Korea’s government pressing him to make a statement that he believed they were capable of destroying the United States, something which he refused to do.
Flair’s opponent, Inoki, was a member of Japanese Parliament, and trained by North Korean-born wrestler Rikidozan, and was hyped considerably ahead of the visit. Knowledge of professional wrestling was limited in North Korea, of course, but to the extent they were familiar at all it was by way of Japanese wrestling. Flair says he doesn’t believe North Koreans had any idea who he actually was.
Inoki has visited North Korea several times since the match on diplomatic and humanitarian missions. He has been an outspoken supporter of “sports diplomacy,” and has expressed interest in sending another show to North Korea.