A legacy unheralded – When Ric Flair carried the message of peace to North Korea

Ric Flair Greatest Hits: Collision in Korea, 1995

These are the best of times, these are the worst of times. As of this writing, arguably the greatest performer to have ever existed, Ric Flair is, for all intents and purposes, in a very bad shape.

To the best of everyone’s knowledge, Ric Flair needs the support of his fans now more than ever. With a few outlets reporting that Flair is being prepped for surgery – and hence is in medically induced coma, I thought I could take this opportunity to shed a bit of light on the time when ‘The Nature Boy’ brought the message of peace to the much denigrated and maligned country of North Korea.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (or DPRK) has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. From threatening to nuke the United States or its territories, to reacting strongly against the sanctions by the United Nations’ tribunal, North Korea seems to be the quintessential heel in the political world.

For the uninitiated, North Korea has been the pantomime villain since the 1950’s. Plagued by the remnants of the Korean War, and the envisaged fear of the Western world, North Korea decided to cut itself off from the rest of the world.

To the North Koreans, that seemed like a valid proposition, after decades of hardships at the hands of Japan, and later, the United States’ armed forces. So it is safe to say that DPRK and North America haven’t been the closest of allies for over half a century.

And when that is taken into consideration, along with the long standing hatred – and quite understandably, the hesitance, of North Korea to entertain the thought of working with the United States and Japan, it was quite the palatable gesture when New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) joined hands to bring professional wrestling to North Korea.

And the man standing in the midst of the eye of the proverbial storm, which, in reality, was the attention of the entire world, was Ric Flair.

Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace

Even in early 90’s, you’d either have to be brave, or be a simpleton, to visit North Korea. With a point to prove to the entire world, and show its dominance – and more importantly, mark its territory, North Korean dictators have used intimidatory rhetoric for the better part of half a century.

So when Ric Flair was told that he could go to North Korea for a two – day event, The Nature Boy had a decision to make. He could either play it safe, or he could jump into the biggest gaping wormhole that has ever existed.

It was quite an easy decision for The Nature Boy.

“I talked to some friends of mine in politics and asked what they thought, and they all thought I was crazy for going”, Flair recollected during an interview with ForTheWin few years ago. “Back then I was just a team player, and they wanted me to go.

I think they asked, if I’m not mistaken, George Foreman if he wanted to go. When I’m in the same light, the same consideration as George Foreman… that’s pretty cool and I’ll accept the opportunity.”

It wasn’t the normal international tour professional wrestlers have grown accustomed to. In fact, better men have turned down the opportunity to go to North Korea. Flair knew all about the downside of going to a country, which inherently despises the West, and its influence.

“I brought my wife and kids to Tokyo with me in case I didn’t make it back”, Flair said during the interview, 19 years after his trip to the Hermit Kingdom.

DPRK’s inflammatory rhetoric is all too well known, but for Flair, it proposed a unique opportunity.

With Mohammad Ali by his side, Ric had the chance to show the North Koreans that the Americans aren’t the “capitalist warmongers” they’d been drummed up to be by the regime.

“Collision in Korea” – DPRK’s sworn enemies wrestle in front of 190,000 people

Ric Flair was scheduled to wrestle on the second day of the two – day event. The first day, as reported by the officials, drew a mammoth 165,000 people, while the second day reportedly drew 190,000 North Koreans.

If that wasn’t daunting enough, Flair’s opponent was Antonio Inoki, the Japanese wrestling legend who is considered to be one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.

The countrymen of two of DPRK’s sworn enemies were surrounded by 190,000 North Koreans, who grew up amidst propaganda, and an inherent disdain for the Americans and Japanese.

After all, it was the “Japanese imperialists” that had suppressed the Koreans at the turn of the 20th century, and the American imperialists that were DPRK’s biggest threat after their independence – at least in the minds of the North Korean citizens.

However, considering it was Rikidozan – one of North Korea’s shining sons that trained Inoki, the Koreans embraced the Japanese icon. In retrospect, the fact that Inoki became a wrestler under the tutelage of Rikidozan paid dividends in ways Inoki wouldn’t have expected in his younger days.

By the end of the two – day event, Ric Flair’s job was done. The pantomime villain stepped on North Korea’s soil, and performed in front of nearly two hundred thousand jingoistic citizens. However, Flair’s role was bigger than just performing in front of the people; in doing so, Ric Flair carried the message of peace and tolerance to the much maligned and ostracised nation.

A gesture of goodwill that needs to happen again, given the circumstances the two nations find themselves in today.

Update: Ric Flair has undergone surgery, and it is being reported that he is still in critical condition.

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