The Legend of Antonio Inoki

Antonio Inoki was a legend to many in the wrestling world, specifically the Japanese wrestling world. However, his influence and his actions stretched well beyond the wrestling ring. With his recent passing, it is time to give credit and spread the knowledge of the legend Antonio Inoki.

New Japan Pro Wrestling

Before stepping foot in a wrestling ring. Inoki was a recent immigrant to Brazil as a minor. Trying to help his family survive working on farms while competing in track and field. A Brazilian champion in shot put and discus. Then at 17 years old, he was discovered by North Korean hero and wrestling legend Rikidozen. Rikidozen was the individual who brought professional wrestling to Japan. To learn under Rikidozen, Inoki moved back to Japan to learn wrestling. Ultimately, finding championships in the Japanese Wrestling Alliance. Inoki wanted his own wrestling company like his mentor Rikidozen. Inoki started New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). It welcomed anyone who wanted to get in the ring from all disciplines of martial arts and strongmen to face professional wrestlers like Inoki.

Great Antonio versus Antonio Inoki
Antonio Inoki versus The Great Antonio

The Great Antonio, a strongman standing 6’4 450 pounds, famous for pulling a 433-tonne train on a track over 20 yards, pulling 4 city buses filled with people. Inoki and The Great Antonio was set. This match turned into a real fight. Great Antonio started by taking Inoki’s worked(meaning not real) attacks and not reacting to these strikes. Great Antonio would return with heavy punches on Inoki, sending him to the ground. Inoki responded with his series of strikes, before taking down the 450-pound man and laying in kicks, knocking out the Great Antonio, and covering Antonio in his blood. However, this was not Inoki’s biggest fight, nor the most controversial one. That would take place a year earlier.

The War of the Worlds: Antonio Inoki vs Muhammad Ali

Muhammed Ali versus Antonio Inoki 1977
Muhammed Ali versus Antonio InokiPhoto: Getty Images

This “fight” took place in Budokan Hall in Toyko. The match was an exhibition fight, with special rules. The fight was one of the worst things that ever aired. One of the most embarrassing moments in Ali’s career. Inoki and Ali agreed to a “worked” fight, where Ali would hit the referee and Inoki would land a kick to the head “knocking out” Ali. Ali did not agree to this so it became a real fight. The rules were set in favor of Ali, no grappling, tackling, or throwing, and to kick, you had to have one knee or your back on the ground. This rule set created the worst “fight” in history.

15 rounds of Inoki laying on the mat kicking Muhammad Ali in the legs to a draw. Ali arguably lost this fight as he suffered damage to both of his legs from the 60 kicks that landed. Ali would suffer two blood clots and infections in his legs because of the kicks. Amputation was considered because of how badly his left leg was damaged. Inoki and Ali became and remained friends after this event. Both imprinted a legacy that is not talked about a lot, which was the fight being the foundation for Mixed Martial Arts. The world of mixed martial arts and the UFC look different without Antonio Inoki.

Muhammad Hussain Inoki

After wrestling, Inoki entered into politics. Winning a seat in the House of Councillors in the Japanese Diet. His first stint in the Diet came in 1989. The biggest event from that stint as a councilor was an unofficial diplomatic mission to Iraq. Iraq, under the rule of Saddam Hussein, was in the middle of a war. The invasion of Kuwait, then the Gulf War against the United States, United Kingdom, and France. As a result of the war, numerous Japanese citizens were stuck in Iraq, effectively taken hostage. Inoki struck a deal with Iraq to hold a professional wrestling event (that never came to be) in exchange and to show his dedication to peace, Antonio Inoki adopted the Muslim name Muhammad Hussain Inoki, becoming a Shia Muslim for Japanese hostages. Ultimately, 36 citizens were freed and returned home to Japan. This would not be the only time Inoki would attempt to use professional wrestling to improve relations between the two countries.

Pyongyang, North Korea

The Kick-off of Collision in Korea Photo: twm.news

In 1995, Antonio Inoki is still leading NJPW and is a member of the House of Councillors. Inoki sought to improve relations between Japan and North Korea. Inoki contacted Eric Bischoff, then president of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and got him to agree to host Collison in Korea in the 150,000-seat stadium in Pyongyang. Two days of wrestling culminated in a planned showdown between two of the most popular wrestlers of their time. Antonio Inoki versus Hulk Hogan one last time.

However, Hogan was not interested in wrestling in North Korea. So Inoki and WCW looked towards another superstar of the period with blonde hair. Ric Flair. Flair versus Inoki is the first and only time in history. 355,000 allegedly witnessed this event in person (the number is disputed, but over 300,000 did see the two-day event) on April 28th-29th. The event starts, and the crowd is silent, as North Koreans have no clue what professional wrestling is. All they know is that two Japanese/American wrestlers are “fighting” each other. The silence continues into night 2 of the event.

Flair versus Inoki. Flair enters. His bleach blond hair is the loudest thing in the stadium, as no one reacts. No boos, no cheers, just silence. Then, Inoki makes his way out to the ring. Inoki’s entrance is different as the crowd cheers for him because he is the protege of Rikidozan, a North Korean hero. This match is not a Japanese wrestler against an American wrestler. This match is North Korea versus the United States. When Inoki hits his finishing maneuver and pins Flair. The crowd erupts. North Korea defeated America. 

Antonio Inoki lived a life worthy of a movie being someone who has done diplomatic missions in countries that are war-torn and hermits to the entire world. He pioneered multiple combat sports and created. Antonio Inoki lived to be 73.