Pro wrestling icon and MMA pioneer for Antonio Inoki recently passed away at the age of 79. Yahoo Japan confirmed the news following his battle with multiple health problems.
A multi-time world champion, Inoki was a larger-than-life figure who helped shape combat sports to what it is today. He was considered ahead of his time due to his realistic style of fighting in a wrestling ring, as well as innovative performances against all types of fighters.
Who was Antonio Inoki
Inoki was taught karate early on and started training to become a wrestler at 17. He trained under Karl Gotch, a major influence on the Japanese pro wrestling style.
In 1972, Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling and became the first IWGP heavyweight champion. He would win the UWA World Heavyweight Title, NWA United National Title, and the NWF Heavyweight Title, among others. Inoki won the WWF Heavyweight Title in 1979 against Bob Backlund. However, the reign is not officially recognized by WWE. He is an International, George Tragos/Lou Thesz, Pro Wrestling, WCW, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and WWE Hall of Famer.
In the 1960s and 70s, Inoki blurred the line between scripted and reality, adapting catch and shoot-style wrestling into his matches. As a promoter, he booked mixed cards that featured fighters from all different aspects of combat sports. The Inoki Genome Federation promoted pro wrestling and MMA fights and was home to Brock Lesnar and Mirko Cro Cop.
Inoki is known for training wrestlers like Tiger Mask, The Great Muta, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tatsumi Fujinami, Brian Adams, Rocky Romero, and more. One of his students, Nobuhiko Takada, helped start the MMA promotion PRIDE Fighting Championships.
He was also involved in politics, and was elected into the House of Councillors in 1989 and 2013.
Antonio Inoki vs. Muhammad Ali
Inoki helped usher in the cross-sport combat phenomenon, bringing together boxers, MMA fighters and pro wrestlers. One of the most popular mixed rules bouts was booked in 1976 when he fought legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. Dubbed “The War of the Worlds,” the bout took place inside the Nippon Budokan Arena in Tokyo in front of 14,000+ people.
Inoki, known for staging events in an attempt to prove wrestling was the dominant sport, agreed to a special rules match with Ali. The match saw Inoki kick Ali’s legs 107 times, and Ali only landed a few punches due to the abnormal rules created for the bout. It was deemed a draw following 15 rounds. The match was considered a precursor to what is considered modern-day MMA.
In 2017, Floyd Mayweather and MMA star Conor McGregor competed in a boxing bout. Flashbacks to Inoki and Ali materialized. McGregor discussed the fight and how it may have changed the combat sports world as we know it.
“Ali tried to reach down and punch, and he ended up getting swept and Inoki ended up on top,” McGregor stated, via MMA Junkie. “(But) the referee separated it straight away. If that moment in time was let go for five more seconds, 10 seconds, Inoki would have wrapped around his neck or his arm or a limb, and the whole face of the combat world would have changed right there and then.”
Mayweather ended up beating McGregor via TKO in the tenth round. “Money” retired a perfect 50-0 following the bout. Today, MMA fighters and boxers are known to compete against one another, with YouTuber’s joining the mix.
Combat sports world remembers Antonio Inoki
Inoki changed the way we watch pro wrestling and MMA. Styles evolved, and aspects of his fighting style can be seen today.
Legendary figures in wrestling and MMA honored Inoki following his passing, from Sting, to Scott Coker, and RIZIN’s Nobuyuki Sakakibara.
Rest In Peace Antonio Inoki! Thank You For The Great Matches & Memories My Friend! 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/ocHcqf7bvZ
— Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) October 1, 2022
New Japan Pro-Wrestling is deeply saddened at the passing of our founder, Antonio Inoki.
His achievements, both in professional wrestling and the global community are without parallel and will never be forgotten.
Our thoughts are with Inoki’s family, friends and fans. pic.twitter.com/n8zA9hj78e
— NJPW Global (@njpwglobal) October 1, 2022
Rest in peace to Antonio Inoki, an absolute legend of combat spots. pic.twitter.com/uCFflP3ByC
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) October 1, 2022
First Ali, then Gene Lebell, now Antonio Inoki.
All three men involved in the most famous MMA fight of all time are now gone.
— Paul Lazenby (@MaulerMMA) October 1, 2022
Antonio Inoki was an icon in Japan.
People would line up to get slapped by him because it was considered a blessing.
RIP to one of the most important figures in martial arts history. pic.twitter.com/uYBizMsBUP
— MMA History Today (@MMAHistoryToday) October 1, 2022
It was an honor and a privilege to share the ring with Antonio Inoki. A true legend and a great loss. pic.twitter.com/63Vqy2h2Ng
— Sting (@Sting) October 1, 2022
WWE remembers Antonio Inoki.
— WWE (@WWE) October 1, 2022
Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Antonio Inoki, the legendary Japanese Pro https://t.co/eB0872a4FJ Inoki chose to Wrestle me in 1994 and then we became friends,kept in touch and was always very kind to https://t.co/jqwYii836k deepest condolences to his family & fans. pic.twitter.com/qqvk8j4Vak
— William Regal (@RealKingRegal) October 1, 2022
One of the most important figures in the history of our business, and a man who embodied the term “fighting spirit.” The legacy of WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki will live on forever.
— Triple H (@TripleH) October 1, 2022