According to the company he co-founded, former pro wrestler and politician Antonio Inoki of Japan died at 79 after a long struggle with a rare condition. Inoki is well known for his fight against Muhammad Ali and his connections to North Korea. “New Japan Pro-Wrestling is extremely devastated over the passing of our founder, Antonio Inoki,” the company he started in 1972 tweeted. The lantern-jawed, 6’3″ (1.9 m) entertainer entered politics in 1989, winning the election to Japan’s upper house of parliament. He made news the following year when he traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War to arrange the release of Japanese detainees. After converting to Islam in 1990, the wrestler’s prominence in Pakistan only soared.
Antonio Inoki, a pro-wrestler-turned-politician, dies at 79
When Pakistani wrestler Akram, nicknamed “Akki,” challenged Inoki in 1976, the Japanese fighter came to Pakistan for the match and was surprised to see nearly 50,000 people at the National Stadium Karachi. In 2013, he returned to Pakistan to mark the 60th anniversary of Pakistan-Japan diplomatic relations.
Rikidozan, Inoki’s early pro-wrestling hero, was from North Korea but could not return after the Korean Peninsula was divided by war, so Inoki and the country became close. His comments that Tokyo could mediate between itself and its nuclear-armed neighbor were bolstered by his repeated trips to Pyongyang as a legislator when he met with high-ranking officials. Many believe the fight with Ali to be the beginning of MMA.
A multibillion-dollar industry dominated in the United States by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. According to wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, Ali had second thoughts about taking $6 million to lose a staged battle against Inoki after arriving in Tokyo. The bout was legal, albeit Inoki was only able to kick while his knee was on the ground.
“His achievements, in professional wrestling and the global community, are without parallel and will never be forgotten.”
Inoki became one of the biggest names on Japan’s pro-wrestling circuit in the 1960s. His fame went global in 1976. It was when he had a martial arts match with boxing legend Muhammad Ali, billed “the bout of the century.”