TODAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY… DEC 31st: Putting an Armbar on The Iron Curtain


Antonio Inoki and New Japan Wrestling host a New Year’s Eve card that was billed as the first professional wrestling event in the then-Soviet Union.

ussrThe USSR had several amateur wrestlers training at the New Japan Dojo, so Inoki explored the idea of a cooperative card behind the Iron Curtain. At the time, the world had no inkling that The Cold War was breathing its last breath, and relations between the US and the Russians (while improved) were still chilly. Due to the constraints of communist society and economy, the Soviet Union had never had an event quite like this.

The card featured nine matches with wrestlers from four different countries: nine wrestlers from Japan, seven from the USSR, three from the United States, and one from the United Kingdom. The Americans making history that day were “The Raging Bull” Manny Fernandez, Bam Bam Bigelow and former Olympian Brad Rheigans.

Within two years, the mighty power of the Hammer and Sickle had disappeared, and been replaced with the modern government that Russia has today. While the fall of communism in the country has opened opportunities for wrestling in Russia, there are still only a handful of independent companies in the former Soviet nation. WWE eventually ran house shows there in 2012 & 2013.  

Jushin Liger vs Black Tiger 
New Japan Pro Wrestling Martial Arts Festival – December 31, 1989 Moscow, USSR]

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