Antonio Inoki, a martial arts pioneer, influential politician and larger-than-life figure in his native Japan, died Friday at the age of 79, according to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the promotional campaign he founded.
The cause of Inoki’s death was not revealed, but he fell ill in recent years and was moved to a wheelchair.
Inoki retired from politics in 2019. Although he touched many parts of Japanese culture in his life and became one of the most famous people in the country, Inoki is best known for his work in combat sports as a professional wrestler, promoter, and fighter – most notably his fight with Muhammad Ali.
Inoki was the most important professional wrestler in Japanese history, selling countless arenas and stadiums from the 1970s onwards. He was also the first Japanese wrestler to win the WWF Championship (although WWE has not currently recognized the covenant) and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
On June 26, 1976, Inoki fought Muhammad Ali in perhaps the highest ever mixed bases match. Inoki had a background in amateur wrestling and judo and was trained by wrestler Karl Gotch, where he developed a method of fighting called the “Strong Style”. Ali was, of course, one of the best boxers in the world at the time and incredibly well known worldwide.
Ali vs Inoki was a direct predecessor to what we now know as Mixed Martial Arts, which became a global sport led by the UFC, which was founded in 1993. Ali vs Inoki had one of the most watched fights of its generation. In addition to selling over 14,000 people at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, it was broadcast in closed circuit around the world.
Shea Stadium in New York broadcast the match on its big screen and drew a crowd of 32,897 with a bottom card of pro-wrestling matches and mixed rules. Ali vs Inoki ended in a draw, but Inoki spent most of the 15-round competition on his back, kicking Ali’s legs and those kicks landed more than 100 times. In the match, Ali took a lot more damage than Inoki and sustained injuries to both of his legs.
Boxing was by far the most popular fighting sport at the time, especially in the United States, but Ali vs Inoki put the idea in many heads that boxing might not have been the best method for winning a more fluid and thorough fight, a debate that raged for decades before Ali vs Inoki and years After that until the UFC blew up.
During the run-up to his historic boxing match with UFC star Floyd Mayweather Conor McGregor Cited by Ali vs. Inoki several times as an influence on him regarding his crossover match with Mayweather. Brazilian jiu-jitsu pioneer Carlson Gracie once said that Inoki was “one of the best fighters” he had seen.
“Ali tried to get his hand down and punch and he ended up drifting,” McGregor said in a media post before his match with Mayweather. “Inoki ended up at the top and the referee immediately separated him. If that moment in time were to be left for another five seconds, or another 10 seconds, Inoki would have wrapped his neck, arm or limb and his entire face would have changed the fighting world there and then.”
In the current scene of combat sports where it has become common for boxers to fight MMA fighters and professional wrestlers to fight youtubers etc etc., Ali vs Inoki was far ahead of its time.
Inoki used the popularity he gained from fighting Ali to become the most famous professional wrestler in Japanese history. He founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972 and was the biggest star in merchandising for over a decade, playing huge matches with the likes of Hulk Hogan and Dory Funk Jr. and Big Van Vader and Bruiser Brody.
But it was also Inoki’s vision to blend what became known as MMA and professional wrestling together. of his students Nobuhiko Takada, helped start the PRIDE Fighting promotional MMA tournament in 1997, which became very popular and was later purchased by the UFC. Inoki participated in several Pride performances, as part of his presentation ceremony and made a parachute jump from a plane to Tokyo National Stadium in front of more than 90,000 people at the 2002 Pride Shockwave.
In the 2000s, Inoki promoted various MMA and professional mixed wrestling cards. Inoki, who spent many of his teenage years in Brazil, is an MMA participant and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend. Renzo Gracie In a match in front of more than 40,000 people in Osaka in 2000. Prior to that, Inoki’s final official wrestling match against the current UFC Hall of Famer came without free In 1998 in front of 70,000 at the Tokyo Dome.
During that time period, Inoki opened a training academy for MMA fighters and professional wrestlers in Los Angeles called Inoki Dojo. Former UFC Lightweight Champion Lyoto Machida In addition to Brian Danielson and Shinsuke Namakura, who are both now hugely popular professional wrestlers, they were students there. Inoki also directed and taught Machida early in his brilliant MMA career.
“I owe him a lot because for me it all started when no one knew me, and Inoki-san gave me a unique opportunity to be a professional athlete,” Machida told ESPN. “There is one word in Japanese called ‘juori’. It means to recognize the people who did something in the beginning where [someone] He has absolutely no chances and he did it for me.
“I really appreciate everything he has done for the martial world and what he represents as a human and fighter. Thank you my godfather and RIP.”
Apart from sports, Inoki has been the main mover and brawler in the political world. He founded his political party, the Sports and Peace Party, and was elected to the Japanese House of Councilors in 1989. Inoki traveled to Iraq in 1996 on a one-man diplomatic mission and negotiated with Saddam Hussein the release of 36 Japanese hostages.
He was also an elected politician in the Japanese government from 2013 to 2019, when he controversially called for continued diplomacy with North Korea. Inoki has always had relations with North Korea. His original pro-wrestling coach, Rikidozan, was of North Korean descent.
Inoki helped organize a two-day wrestling festival in the country in 1995, which attracted 150,000 on the first day and 190,000 on the second. Inoki defeated Ric Flair in the main event, the only time the two legends have wrestled with each other.
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