Antonio Inoki

Antonio Inoki held many titles in his long life. Wrestler, promoter, martial artist, MMA fighter, trainer, politician, and legend. Inoki passed away at the age of 79 on October 1st. He faced down Muhammad Ali, Ric Flair, and even Saddam Hussein. He left an impressive legacy in every field he was in, and is seen as a pioneer of Japanese wrestling and mixed martial arts. 


Inoki was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1943. He was an athlete early in his life and won regional titles in Japan and in Brazil when his family moved there for a time. At the age of 17 he met Korean-Japanese wrestling star Rikidōzan, who made him his protege and trained him in pro wrestling. He debuted in 1960 for JPWA and excelled as wrestling grew in popularity in Japan. After Rikidōzan’s murder, Inoki sought to continue his mentor’s legacy by forming New Japan Pro Wrestling.


Inoki’s accomplishments in wrestling are exceptional. He was a 3 time IWGP World Heavyweight Champion and one time WWE World Champion. He is the only Japanese wrestler to have won both titles (despite WWE not recognizing his reign). He had stunning feuds with Big Van Vader and Hulk Hogan in Japan. He faced Ric Flair in a match in North Korea in one of the most unbelievable events in the history of wrestling. He retired from pro wrestling in 1998 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. He trained numerous wrestlers including Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuyuki Fujita, and Keiji Muto. 


Inoki’s biggest achievement was hosting fights that became the precursor to modern MMA. He was trained in shoot wrestling and karate and fought opponents of all styles. His most iconic bout was his 1979 fight against Muhammad Ali. The bout was unusual for its time as Inoki kicked Ali in the legs repeatedly and the fight ended in a draw. In its time, the fight was hated in its time but became a moment that inspired a rising sport. Ali vs Inoki inspired the formation of MMA companies Pancrase and PFC, the latter of which is now owned by UFC. The stage was for MMA’s international meteoric rise.


Inoki served in the upper house of the Japanese parliament from 1989-1995 and 2013-2019. In his political career he sought peace and negotiated for the release of Japanese hostages from Iraq and North Korea. He converted to Islam in the 90s and changed his legal name to Muhammad Inoki. 


Antonio Inoki was a national idol in his home country. Thousands came out to support him in his numerous endeavors in every field. Many wrestlers and fans sought to have Inoki slap them as they believed he could transfer his fighting spirit to them. Thousands expressed their grief due to his passing including WWE, NJPW, his students, his peers, and his many fans. He will be remembered as a pioneer, an entertainer, a lover of peace, an exceptional athlete, a teacher, and an icon.