One of the most significant and influential figures in Japanese professional wrestling history has died. Antonio Inoki died at his home on Saturday, October 1, according to Yahoo! Japan. Although no cause of death was given, Inoki’s health issues in recent years were very well known. In an earlier interview this year, he admitted to being on the verge of death several times.
Inoki’s death was announced nearly 62 decades to the day following his pro wrestling debut on September 30, 1960, at the age of 17. Another literal and symbolic giant in Japanese wrestling history, Inoki’s future tag team partner Shohei Baba, decided to make his in-ring debut for the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance on the same card. The departures of Inoki and Baba from the JWA forever altered the course of Japanese wrestling. Inoki established New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972, whereas Baba established All Japan Pro Wrestling. The JWA imploded without two of its top stars.
NJPW’s leadership under Inoki
The influence of Inoki spread throughout the world. In an infamous wrestler vs. boxer match in 1976, he faced Muhammed Ali. Many see the fight as a foreshadowing of the sport of mixed martial arts’ future popularity. NJPW’s leadership under Inoki was not without flaws. During 2000s, his involvement in MMA gave birth to an in-ring philosophy recognised as Inoki-ism. However, the transition to a shoot fighting style almost doomed NJPW. Inoki sold his shareholding in NJPW and left the company in 2005.
Following his departure from NJPW, Inoki pursued other promotions and ventures. Among them was the establishment of the Inoki Genome Federation. Inoki also achieved success in politics. He was a member of the House of Councillors for two terms. He was elected for the first time in 1989. During that term, he travelled to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein, negotiating the release of a team of Japanese hostages. Inoki left office after a failed re-election bid, but he returned after being elected to a new phrase in 2013. This one was distinguished by a number of contentious trips to North Korea. Inoki stepped down from politics in 2019.
On Friday night, news of Inoki’s death began to circulate in North America. The news of his death was announced during Friday night’s live SmackDown broadcast, with Michael Cole expressing the company’s condolences to Inoki’s parents, mates, and fans. WWE Chief Content Officer Paul Levesque paid tribute on Twitter. Levesque called him “one of the most important figures in the history of our industry” and “a man who embodied the term fighting spirit.” WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki’s legacy will live on in perpetuity.
Inoki won the WWF Heavyweight Championship in 1979 after defeating Bob Backlund, but the company never officially recognised his reign. In 2010, Inoki was incorporated into the WWE Hall of Fame. Tony Khan, the owner and CEO of AEW, joined many others on social media in paying homage to Inoki’s memory. On Friday night, Khan posted on Twitter, “RIP Antonio Inoki, a pioneer in the pro wrestling industry.” Inoki’s influence and accomplishments will live on in the wrestling world forever; he is a motivation to all dreamers. Thank you very much, sir.