by John Hawkins | July 29, 2005 5:17 am
Back in 1995, North Korea — for reasons unfathomable to mortal men — invited World Championship Wrestling to come there and do a show. Previously, I’ve posted about Eric Bischoff’s North Korean odyssey, and in a book I recently finished, Ric Flair’s “To Be the Man,” he talked about the trip as well. Flair had some fascinating stories that will give you a little insight into the North Korean mindset — plus, there’s a hell of a good Muhammad Ali tale (Yes, he was there, too, for some reason) included.
From “To Be the Man” pages 239-241:
“…The second we arrived in Pyongyang, our passports were confiscated. Then each of us was assigned a “cultural attache” to follow us everywhere; these guys even sat in the dressing room while we went over our matches. In the dining room where the wrestlers ate, there was a camera in each corner, monitoring every movement. When Scott Norton called his wife and said, “This place sucks,” his phone line suddenly went dead.
Muhammad Ali and I were taken everywhere in separate vehicles, while the rest of the guys were on a bus surrounded by government cars. They split us up at the hotel — the way they did suspected traitors they wanted to segregate and brainwash. I didn’t see anybody until our handlers decided the time was right.
The event itself was unlike anything I ever witnessed. A total of 380,000 spectators attended over two nights….During the show…(t)he fans held up different colored placards to create incredible mosaic images. It was beautiful, but also creepy. The first couple of sections were occupied exclusively by guys in military uniforms. The spectators cheered on cue. I almost got the feeling that they had been ordered to attend.
…At one point, my minder asked me how much my watch cost. When I told him, he marveled, “Can anybody really have that kind of money? That’s more than I make in five years.” I asked him his salary. It was the equivalent of about seven American dollars a week. Had I realized that, I never would have worn that watch in front of him.
Because of the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, it was difficult to understand Muhammad Ali when he spoke. But at one function, we were sitting at a big, round table with a group of North Korean luminaries when one of the guys started rambling on about the moral superiority of North Korea, and how they could take out the United States or Japan any time they wanted. Suddenly, Ali piped up, clear as a bell, “No wonder we hate these motherf*ckers.”
My hair practically stood up on my head. “Oh, sh*t,” I whispered, “don’t start talking now.”
Before we left North Korea, our handlers requested that I make a speech at the airport. They even had specific points that they expected me to articulate — things like North Korea being a worker’s paradise, and that America sucked. I looked at Bischoff and told him, “I can’t say this.” The last thing I wanted was to be quoted in the American press making statements that I didn’t mean. So I just spouted some generic comments and thanked everyone for their hospitality.
This is how I was quoted by the official North Korean press agency: “Before I leave this beautiful and peaceful country, I would like to make a tribute to the great leader, Mr. Kim Il Sung (the late father of the current dictator), who devoted his life to the Korean people’s happiness, prosperity, and Korean unification. His Excellency, Kim Il Sung, will always be with us.”
As soon as our plane landed in Japan, I bent down and literally kissed the ground. I was so glad to be back on friendly soil.”
Man, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, one who could speak Korean, in the dinner where Ali popped off to all those Nork heavies. Now that would have been fun…
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