Friday, March 9, 2018

Antonio Inoki WWF Champion?

If you go to Wikipedia under the List of WWE Champions section it notates that on November 30, 1979 in Tokushima, Japan Antonio Inoki defeated Bob Backlund to win the WWF Championship.  It goes on to say that on December 6, 1979 in Tokyo Inoki vacated the title after a rematch with Backlund that ended in a no contest when Tiger Jeet Singh interfered.  Finally it states that Backlund regained the vacated title when he defeated Bobby Duncum in a Texas Death Match on December 17, 1979 at Madison Square Garden.  Of course the WWE does not recognize this title change in their official championship lineage.

These type of phantom title changes happened frequently in the NWA however this is the only known incident in the WWF.  Recently I got New Japan World and looking around I found this controversial match and had to watch it.

The match itself isn't anything exciting by today's standards but was very good for then.  The match is about thirty minutes and as it nears the end Tiger Jeet Singh is seen being held at ringside by the young boys.  Inoki goes over and yells on Singh and while distracted Backlund hits his finisher the dreaded atomic drop and gets three count.

I watched it twice, the referee clearly counts three but doesn't call for the bell or anything.  Backlund jumps up and throws his fist in the air thinking he has won when Inoki grabs him and nails a side suplex and goes for the cover.

Backlund appears to kick out just as the referee counts three but the bell immediately rings and the commentators start yelling in Japanese but you can hear "WWF Champion" clearly.  The ring fills ups moments after the bell rings and Inoki is raised up on their shoulders.  Tiger Jeet Singh gets in the ring where Backlund attacks him followed by Inoki.  Eventually Singh is cleared out of the ring and they have the ceremony where they put the championship on Inoki and give him a large trophy.  Backlund grabs the mic and says that the referee counted three.  It appears as though the screwed Backlund out of the championship but it also appears as though it was a work

Antonio Inoki wearing Backlunds WWF Championship

This match was the first day of the tour that Backlund was on.  Over the next few days he worked matches getting wins over Seiji Sakaguchu, Tiger Jeet Singh, and Tatsumi Fujinami.  On December 3, 1979 Backlund teamed with Pedro Morales defeated Antonio Inoki and Tatsumi Fujimani.

December 6, 1979 was the return title match and this too is on New Japan World.  In my opinion this match is better than the one a week prior.  The finish of this match comes when Inoki has Backlund in a short arm scissors and Backlund picks him up carrying him to the corner and dumping him over the top rope.  Tiger Jeet Singh runs out and goes to attack Inoki on the floor back Inoki defends himself.  Once back on the apron Backlund lifts Inoki in the Atomic Drop position and with the referee distracted by Singh Backlund crotches Inoki on the top rope and pins him for a three count.

The referee gives Backlund the championship and declares him the winner.  However it appears as though the New Japan officials are going to overturn the referees decision much to the chagrin of Backlund and the referee.  For several minutes they talk to Backlund, I have no idea what they are saying.  Backlund just keeps walking up and down the apron shaking his head and yelling no.  He threatens to hit them with the Championship belt several times.  Eventually they get the belt away from Backlund and the clip ends with them giving the belt to Inoki.

Three days later on December 9th Backlund billed as WWF Champion lost to Intercontinental Champion Pat Patterson by count-out in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Eight days later at Madison Square Garden Backlund defeated Bobby Duncum in the Texas Death Match.

In his book "Backlund" Bob Backlund wrote that the switch was done as a favor to Inoki to keep him on par with his rival Giant Baba of All Japan Pro Wrestling had already had two short runs with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship defeated Jack Brisco in 1974 and Harley Race in 1979.

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment, read my other posts, and like my blogs Facebook page and while you're at it check out my weekly podcast Podcast of 1,000 Holds on the Nerdy Legion Podcast Network. 

Later Readers!


  1. Great read! Thanks for the write-up. I just randomly noticed Inoki with a (c) next to his name against Backlund for the WWF title, on a recommended njpw matches list, and was like "what the what?" Really glad this explanation is out there and was easily found.

    1. Glad to be able to provide the answer. I love wrestling and what interests me most about it are subjects like this.

  2. I believe that Greg Valentine, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit are also phantom champions