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North Koreans watch a pro-wrestler leave the fighting arena after a match, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Koreans got their first look at pro wrestling in about 20-years on Saturday when former NFL lineman Bob "The Beast" Sapp, and 20 other fighters from around the world took to the ring for an exhibition in Pyongyang, put together by colourful Japanese pro-wrestler Kanji "Antonio" Inoki, who is now a member of parliament. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Pro wrestling returns to the ring in North Korea
First Published Aug 30 2014 11:35 am • Last Updated Aug 30 2014 11:35 am

Pyongyang, North Korea • North Koreans got their first look at pro wrestling in about 20 years on Saturday when an ex-NFL lineman and 20 other grapplers from around the world took to the ring for an exhibition put together by a charismatic former Japanese pro-wrestler who is now a member of parliament.

Kanji "Antonio" Inoki, who organized the two-day event in Pyongyang, said he hopes it will pave the way for more exchanges with the North.

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The exhibition was the first major sports event with big-name foreigners in the North Korean capital since Dennis Rodman and a team of other former NBA players staged a game in January for leader Kim Jong Un’s birthday.

Jang Ung, a member of the International Olympic Committee and the North Korean co-organizer of this weekend’s event, opened the show Saturday with a speech denouncing the U.S. for conducting military exercises with South Korea that he said were preparations for a nuclear attack. South Korea and the U.S. say the training is purely defensive.

When Americans Bob "The Beast" Sapp and Jon Andersen took to the ring, the crowd of about 15,000 didn’t seem to know how to respond.

"It was real eerie and a little scary at first," said Sapp, who briefly played for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears before becoming a celebrity in Japan as a mixed martial artist. "But we were able to take control of the audience. It went over very well."

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