According to a report Saturday on ProBoxingInsider.com, Ric Flair said that when he and the legendary Muhammad Ali went to North Korea, their trip was nothing like the one recently taken by Dennis Rodman.
Rodamn's recent trip to North Korea captured the media's attention recently, as the former NBA star visited the isolated country to play some hoops and, he thought, to open up a dialogue between that country and the United States. But that trip was hardly the first involving famous athletes from the United States traveling to North Korea. Back in 1995, a much more famous athlete took the trip.
Muhammad Ali, former heavyweight champion, and one of the most recognizable faces in the world, went there with a group of wrestlers and tourists for an event dubbed the International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace in Pyongyang. Wrestling legend Ric Flair was among the others that attended.
Clearly Dennis Rodman doesn't have the stature of Ali, and it's doubtful his trip will solve any more than that trip did back in 1995. Both events, coincidentally, came shortly following the death of a leader of North Korea. Back then, Kim Il Sung had died, and his son, Kim Jong Il, had risen to power. It is more likely a play to consolidate power and put a best face forward to the rest of the world, than an effort to really make any concrete changes in a nation that has among the worst human rights records in the world.
Back then, the meeting wasn't centered around basketball. Pro wrestling took center stage as Ric Flair took on fellow legend Antonio Inoki from Japan. The estimated 190,000 in attendance didn't all come to see the match, however. Many of those in attendance were Korean tourists who made the trip hoping to find long lost relatives they had been separated from for decades. Harper's magazine writer Orville Schell described the situation.
The festival was truly one of the oddest events in this country’s strange history of contact with the outside world. Although the government had hoped to lure Western tourists to Pyongyang, most of those who showed up were overseas Koreans yearning to see long-lost relatives. Their fervent requests for visits were callously refused, however, and instead of enjoying family reunions, they found themselves prisoners at a pro-wrestling extravaganza. No one had a good answer for why the government had spent millions of scarce dollars on a festival that ended up alienating the very guests it hoped to impress. As a British friend who had spent a year in Pyongyang put it, “But then there are few things about the DPRK that make sense to us.”
Rodman's trip, made with several Harlem Globetrotters at least ended on a more happy note, even if it ultimately accomplished nothing but further cementing Rodman's reputation as a clueless dolt.
Muhammad Ali was much less vocal, and certainly less positive during his trip to North Korea. Ric Flair spoke about it a little about the words Ali did speak in his autobiography Ric Flair: To Be The Man
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—–s.”
Ultimately the two trips showed the difference between a clown like Dennis Rodman, and the great Muhammad Ali. While Rodman was a pawn in their game, allowing himself to prop up that country at his expense, Ali, even in his deteriorating condition, couldn't be made a fool of.