Nobuhiko Takada vs Trevor Berbick

Date: December 22, 1991
Location: Sumo Hall in Tokyo, Japan
Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Armpit reader Alex Boothroyd

UWF-I was a pro wrestling promotion, but their matches were worked to look like shoots. It was similar to the original UWF in Japan, which was extremely popular based on the same concept.

The UWF-I promotion held a card in late December of 1991 featuring a boxer vs wrestler theme. Nobuhiko Takada was their top star, and booked himself in a match with former boxing champion Trevor Berbick. While most of the matches on the card were worked shoots, the final two matches were always scheduled to be shoots. One of those matches was Takada vs Berbick.

Including an MMA fight in a list of backstage fights might seem silly, but it’s the nature of what happened that made headlines and is the reason it’s included here.

Berbick had some success in pro boxing, and is famous for being, along with Larry Holmes, the only boxer to ever fight both Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. He did beat Ali, but it was Ali’s last fight and he was already long past his prime and showing early signs of Parkinsons. He lost to a Tyson in 1986, then Iron Mike was just starting out.

UWF-I offered him $75,000 for the Takada match. Before the match started, Berbick said he wanted no kicks below the waist. He went to the ring thinking it would be a standard kickboxing match.

Either there was a communication problem, or Takada agreed to his rules with no intention of following them. There were also reports Berbick held the company up for more money, which if true, would likely indicate it wasn’t a communication problem. The result was Takada threw several kicks below the waist, causing Berbick to freak out.

Berbick immediately started complaining to the referee, but the ref did nothing. Referees in Japan are notorious for being anything but proactive, and extremely laid back when it comes to enforcing the rules. In PRIDE, the referees would let fights go on much longer than they should have, resulting in permanent injuries to many of the fighters. Here, in more of a worked/shoot hybrid environment, the referees were almost useless.

The ref told Berbick to just keep fighting, but he wasn’t prepared for leg kicks and didn’t know how to react or defend them. After a strike to the hamstring, he put his guard down and Takada kicked him in the head. Berbick eventually got so frustrated that he left the ring and never came back, causing a mini riot where fans threw cups, chairs, and debris. They also chanted “Coward” and “Yellow” at him. Takada had to get on the house mic and calm the crowd down. The match lasted under three minutes.

The incident never had the chance to make headlines in the US, as Berbick overshadowed the events of the fight with other legal troubles of his own doing. He was arrested shortly after the right for Grand Theft and Mortgage Fraud, as he had taken out a loan while using another woman to co-sign the loan who pretended to be his ex-wife. He defaulted on the loan, and bank officials eventually caught on to him. At the time of the arrest, Berbick was already on probation for assault, and had charges pending of raping his child’s babysitter (which he was later convicted of).

Berbick’s legal troubles continued in Canada and Jamaica, and he was murdered in 2006 by two men, one of whom was his nephew.

The fight with Takada was taped with the idea of airing it later on pay-per-view in the US, with Lou Thesz commentating. Video of the fight can be seen