The Story Of Rikidozan vs Masahiko Kimura: The Wrestling Match That Turned Too Real

May 9, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Sports

It was a match dubbed the Duel of the Century — between Masahiko Kimura and the Japanese Professional Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, Rikidozan. Kimura earned his fame by being pretty talented at real fighting — he had only lost four judo matches in his entire life, and even had an arm lock named after him that’s still used consistently in modern MMA. Rikidozan, on the other hand, dabbled briefly in sumo wrestling before really building a career throwing himself around professional wrestling rings.

But even though one of the fighters was the real thing, the Duel of the Century was staged as a series of fake matches that would have toured around Japan, highlighting the evenly matched skill set of each man. We say “would have” because they never got through more than one match; Rikidozan made it clear that the only thing more important to him than piles of money and attention was winning.

The very first match was supposed to end in a draw, setting up all the future matches in the Duel of the Century, but Rikidozan went into business for himself just a few minutes into the fight.

The two wrestled for a while like they had rehearsed, exchanging fake holds and dodging painfully sluggish attacks, because apparently everything could be in slow motion in the ’50s and still keep the entire audience absolutely enthralled.

Then without warning, Rikidozan snapped. He unleashed a flurry of chops to Kimura’s neck and face. The flustered judo champion backed into a corner, afraid to fight back in any real capacity, because he was concerned that breaking Rikidozan in half might sour the deal.


At one point, Kimura even turned to the referee, presumably to ask for some kind of help, only to be pummeled to the floor and kicked in the face while the ref just watched and nodded.

Somehow Kimura mustered up enough strength to stand up, bewildered by the turn of events. After the referee checked him for injuries, Rikidozan raced back in and chopped Kimura so hard in the neck that he knocked him out cold.

Rikidozan celebrated his glorious victory while a swollen-faced and disoriented Kimura looked on from his corner, trying to understand what the hell had just happened. In the aftermath, Kimura still had the composure to shake the hand of Rikidozan and congratulate him on the win, even though he was well within his rights, as far as we’re concerned, to forcefully rearrange his organs.

On December 8, 1963, while partying in a Tokyo nightclub, Rikidōzan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by a man named Katsuji Murata who belonged to the ninkyō dantai (Yakuza) Sumiyoshi-ikka. Reportedly, Rikidōzan threw Murata out of the club and continued to party, refusing to seek medical help. Another report states that Rikidōzan did indeed see his physician shortly after the incident, and was told the wound was not serious. He died a week later of peritonitis on December 15. It is rumored by Kimura that his murder was in retaliation for what transpired in the wrestling match.


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