Antonio Inoki, a well-known Japanese professional wrestler, and legislator who competed in a 1976 mixed martial arts battle against world boxing champion Muhammad Ali died at 79.
Inoki popularised Japanese professional wrestling and invented mixed martial arts contests including elite wrestlers and champions from several combat sports like judo, karate, and boxing.
He was the first athlete in his sport to pursue politics as well. While serving as a legislator, he traveled to North Korea more than 30 times in an effort to foster friendship and peace. He also supported peace via sports.
According to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co., which he founded and served as president of, Inoki, who was battling the uncommon disease amyloidosis, passed away early on Saturday. Even while he battled the illness, Inoki was positive and in a good mood.
Inoki made his last public appearance in a wheelchair on a TV show in August while wearing his signature red scarf around his neck.
You can see that I’m exerting myself to the fullest, and as I move closer to you, the power grows, he remarked.
He was born in Yokohama, Japan, in 1943 under the name Kanji Inoki. When he was 13 years old, his family relocated to Brazil, where he worked on a coffee plantation.
Inoki considered the “founder of Japanese pro-wrestling,” attracted Rikidozan’s notice while on a wrestling tour in Brazil at the age of 17 after achieving local popularity in the shot put as a student.
Inoki made his professional wrestling debut in 1960 and chose Antonio Inoki as his ring name two years later.
Pro wrestling became a very popular sport in Japan because of Inoki and his late competitor and another Japanese icon, Shohei “Giant” Baba. Inoki established New Japan Pro-Wrestling in that year.
He became a household name in the sport in 1976 when he competed against Ali in what is remembered as “the fight of the century” at Tokyo’s Budokan venue.
As the leader of the Sports and Peace Party, Inoki joined politics in 1989 after being elected to the upper house, one of Japan’s two chambers of parliament.
In 1990, he went to Iraq to secure the release of hostages who were Japanese nationals. He organized a professional wrestling match in North Korea as well.
Over the years, Inoki developed a personal relationship with North Korea and made several trips there to assist in resolving Japan’s long-standing problem with previous kidnappings of Japanese people by the North.
He ended his career as a wrestler in 1998, but he continued to be involved in politics until 2019.
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