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Wrestling Icon Antonio Inoki Passes Away At 79

September 30, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Antonio Inoki Image Credit: WWE

A giant of the wrestling world has left us as Antonio Inoki, the Japanese icon who helped transform the industry, has reportedly passed away. Yahoo Japan reports that the wrestling legend died at his home on Friday (Saturday morning in Japan) at the age of 79. Details regarding his passing were not reported, though Inoki had been in poor health for quote some time.

Inoki left an unforgettable mark on the wrestling industry, with a career that spanned almost 40 years in the ring. He began his career in 1960 at the Japanese Wrestling Association under the teachings of the legendary Rikidōzan at the age of 17. Before then, he had grown up in Yokohama until his family fell on difficult times, after which they moved to Brazil. Inoki excelled in sports growing up and won regional and All Brazilian championships in track and field.

Of course, if was wrestling was where he would make his mark. He trained under the likes of Rikidōzan, Karl Gotch, and others, going on excursion to the US in 1964. When he returned to Japan in 1967, he partnered with his classmate Giant Baba and the two were a dominant tag team.

When Inoki was fired from the promotion in 1971 for attempting a takeover of the company, Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling where he quickly grew to become one of the most popular professional wrestlers in Japan. He faced several legendary wrestlers including Lou Thesz, Andre the Giant, and Gotch, and solidified a place in history when he faced Muhammed Ali in a 1976 boxing vs. wrestling fight. While the fight was controversial and not well-received by may, it was wildly successful and is considered to be a precursor to the formation of MMA.

Inoki would continue to wrestle in and own NJPW for decades, helping guide it to become one of the dominant wrestling companies until it was bought by Yuke’s in 2005. He also competed outside of NJPW, winning the WWF Heavyweight Championship from Bob Backlund in November of 1979. He would lose it back to Backlund a week later and though that loss would be declared a no-contest, Inoki refused the title and it was declared vacant. Inoki’s title reign is not officially recognized by WWE. Inoki also faced Ric Flair in 1995 at the infamous “Collision in Korea” shows that were produced by NJPW and WCW.

Inoki’s retirement match came in 1998 against Don Frye. Over the course of his career, he held a host of championships including both versions of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the NWF Heavyweight Championship, the NWA International Tag Team Championship (four times with Giant Baba), the NWA United National Championship and many others. He was also inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and in 2010 the WWE Hall of Fame.

Outside of the ring, Inoki was influential in more than combat sports. He followed in his father’s footsteps and took on a career in politics, founding the Sports and Peace Party in 1989 and getting elected to House of Councillors. He served from 1989 to 1995 and then again for a second run that lasted from 2013 – 2019 under the Japan Restoration Party.

On behalf of 411, our condolences to Inoki’s family, friends, and legion of fans. There is no question that the world would not be the same without him.

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Antonio Inoki, Jeremy Thomas