In Memoriam: Antonio Inoki (1943-2022)
Antonio Inoki, the Japanese professional wrestling legend and mixed martial arts pioneer, has died at the age of 79.
Inoki, who was battling a rare disease called amyloidosis, died earlier Saturday, according to the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co., of which he was the founding president. Inoki was upbeat and in good spirits, even as he was fighting the disease. IN recent years the combat sports pioneer had been relegated to a wheelchair.
Inoki faced the late world boxing champion Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match in 1976, a storyline that sent shockwaves around the world at the time.
Inoki brought Japanese pro-wrestling to fame and pioneered mixed martial arts matches between top wrestlers and champions from other combat sports like judo, karate and boxing.
From his martial arts fights, to bloody brawls with the likes of Tiger Jeet Singh, and an indomitable underdog spirit opposite the hulking Andre the Giant, Inoki blended an in ring versatility with an explosive charisma that made him the image of professional wrestling to generations both in Japan and worldwide.
He also was the first in his sport to enter politics. He promoted peace through sports and made more than 30 trips to North Korea during his time as a lawmaker in hopes of forging peace and friendship.
Born as Kanji Inoki in 1943 in Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, he moved to Brazil with his family when he was 13 and worked at a coffee plantation. Inoki won local fame in shot put as a student, and debuted as a professional wrestler at 17 while on wrestling tour in Brazil where he captured the attention of Rikidozan, known as the father of Japanese pro-wrestling.
Inoki made his pro-wrestling debut in 1960 and gave himself a ring name Antonio Inoki two years later.
He retired as a wrestler in 1998, but remained active in politics until 2019.
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