Antonio Inoki
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Antonio Inoki

Antonio Inoki
Antonio Inoki IMG 0398-2 20121224.JPG
Inoki in December 2012
Member of the House of Councillors


Personal details
Kanji Inoki (?, Inoki Kanji)

(1943-02-20) February 20, 1943 (age 78)[1]
Yokohama, Japan[2]
Political partyIndependents Club (2016-2019)
Other political
Sports and Peace Party (1989-1995)
Japan Restoration Party (2013-2014)
Party for Future Generations (2014-2015)
Assembly to Energize Japan (2015-2016)
(m. 1971; div. 1987)

Tazuko Tada (died 2019)
RelativesSimon Inoki (son-in-law)
Antonio Inoki
Moeru Toukon
Tokyo Tom
Little Tokyo
The Kamikaze
Killer Inoki
Kanji Inoki
Billed height6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)[2]
Billed weight224 lb (102 kg)[2]
Billed fromTokyo, Japan
Trained byRikid?zan
Karl Gotch
DebutSeptember 30, 1960[3]
RetiredApril 4, 1998[2][3]
Japanese name
Japanese name

Muhammad Hussain Inoki (born Kanji Inoki (Japanese: ?, Hepburn: Inoki Kanji) on February 20, 1943) is a Japanese retired professional wrestler, martial artist, politician, and promoter of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. He is best known by the ring name Antonio Inoki (?, Antonio Inoki), a homage to fellow professional wrestler Antonino Rocca. Inoki is a twelve-time professional wrestling world champion, notably being the first IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the first Asian WWF Heavyweight Champion - a reign not officially recognized by WWE.

Inoki began his professional wrestling career in the 1960s for the Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA) under the tutelage of Rikid?zan. Inoki quickly became one of the most popular stars in the history of Japanese professional wrestling. He parlayed his wrestling career into becoming one of Japan's most recognizable athletes, a reputation bolstered by his 1976 fight against world champion boxer Muhammad Ali - a fight that served as a predecessor to modern day mixed martial arts. In 1995, with Ric Flair, Inoki headlined two shows in North Korea that drew 150,000 and 190,000 spectators, the highest attendances in professional wrestling history.[4] Inoki wrestled his final match on April 4, 1998 against Don Frye and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.[2]

Inoki began his promoting career in 1972, when he founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW). He remained the owner of NJPW until 2005 when he sold his controlling share in the promotion to the Yuke's video game company. In 2007, he founded the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF). In 2017, Inoki founded ISM and the following year left IGF. He is also the co-founder of the karate style Kansui-ry? () along with Matsubayashi-ry? master Yukio Mizutani.[5]

In 1989, while still an active wrestler, Inoki entered politics as he was elected to the Japanese House of Councillors. During his first term with the House of Councillors, Inoki successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein for the release of Japanese hostages before the outbreak of the Gulf War. His first tenure in the House of Councillors ended in 1995, but he was reelected in 2013. In 2019, Inoki retired from politics.

Early life

Inoki was born in an affluent family in Yokohama in 1943. He was the sixth son and the second youngest of the seven boys and four girls. His father, Sajiro Inoki, a businessman and politician, died when Kanji was five years old. Inoki entered the Higashidai Grade School. Inoki was taught karate by an older brother while in 6th grade. By the time he was in 7th grade at Terao Junior High School, he was 180 centimeters tall and joined the basketball team. He later quit and joined a track and field club as a shot putter. He eventually won the championship at the Yokohama Junior High School track and field competition.

The family fell on hard times in the post-war years, and in 1957, the 14-year-old Inoki emigrated to Brazil with his grandfather, mother and brothers. His grandfather died during the journey to Brazil. Inoki won regional championships in Brazil in the shot put, discus throw, and javelin throw, and finally the All Brazilian championships in the shot put and discus.[6]

Professional wrestling career

Early career (1960-1971)

Inoki met Rikid?zan at the age of 17. He went back to Japan for the Japanese Wrestling Association (JWA) as Rikid?zan's disciple. One of his dojo classmates was Giant Baba. After Rikidozan's murder, Inoki worked in Baba's shadow until he left for an excursion to the United States in 1964.

After a long excursion of wrestling in the United States, Inoki found a new home in Tokyo Pro Wrestling in 1966. While there, Inoki became their biggest star. Unfortunately, the company folded in 1967, due to turmoil behind the scenes.

Returning to JWA in late 1967, Inoki was made Baba's partner and the two dominated the tag team ranks as the "B-I Cannon", winning the NWA International Tag Team Championship belts four times.

New Japan Pro-Wrestling (1972-2005)

Fired from JWA in late 1971 for planning a takeover of the promotion, Inoki founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) in 1972. His first match as a New Japan wrestler was against Karl Gotch.

In 1976, Inoki fought with Pakistani Akram Pahalwan in a special rules match. The match apparently turned into a shoot, with an uncooperative Akram biting Inoki in the arm and Inoki retaliating with an eye poke. At the end, Inoki won the bout with a double wrist lock, injuring Pahalwan's arm after the latter refused to tap out. According to referee Mr. Takahashi, this finish was not scripted and was fought for real after the match's original flow became undone.[7]

In 1977 on December 8th, Inoki would be involved in a match against former strongman turned professional wrestler Antonio Barichievich better known as The Great Antonio. Barichievich inexplicably began no-selling Inoki's attacks and then stiffing Inoki; Inoki responded by shooting on Barichievich, knocking him down with palm strikes and kicks, and then stomping his head repeatedly as he lay on the mat before the match being stopped.[8]

In June 1979, Inoki wrestled Akram's countryman Zubair Jhara Pahalwan, this time in a regular match, and lost the fight in the fifth round.[9] In 2014, twenty two years after Zubair Jhara's death, he announced he would take Jhara's nephew Haroon Abid under his guardianship.[10]

On November 30, 1979, Inoki defeated WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund in Tokushima, Japan, to win the title. Backlund then won a rematch on December 6. However, WWF president Hisashi Shinma declared the re-match a no contest due to interference from Tiger Jeet Singh, and Inoki remained Champion. Inoki refused the title on the same day, and it was declared vacant. Backlund later defeated Bobby Duncum in a Texas Death match to regain the title on December 12. Inoki's reign is not recognized by WWE in its WWF/WWE title history and Backlund's first reign is viewed as uninterrupted from 1978 to 1983.

In 1995 the Japanese and the North Korean governments came together to hold a two-day wrestling festival for peace in Pyongyang, North Korea. The event drew 150,000 and 190,000 fans respectively to Rungnado May Day Stadium. The main event saw the only match between Inoki and Ric Flair, with Inoki coming out on top.[4] Days before this event, Inoki and the Korean press went to the grave and birthplace of Rikid?zan and paid tribute to him.

Inoki's retirement from professional wrestling matches came with the staging of the "Final Countdown" series between 1994 and 1998. This was a special series in which Inoki re-lived some of his mixed martial arts matches under professional wrestling rules, as well as rematches of some of his most well known wrestling matches. As part of the Final Countdown tour, Inoki made a rare World Championship Wrestling appearance; defeating WCW World Television Champion Steven Regal in a non-title match at Clash of the Champions XXVIII. Inoki faced Don Frye in the final match of his professional wrestling career.

In 2005, Yuke's, a Japanese video company, purchased Inoki's controlling 51.5% stock in New Japan.[11][12]

Post NJPW years (2005-2019)

Two years later in 2007, Inoki founded a new promotion called Inoki Genome Federation. On February 1, 2010, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) announced on its Japanese website that Inoki would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. Inoki was presented with a Hall of Fame certificate by WWE's Ed Wells and stated that he would be attending the WrestleMania XXVI weekend festivities, during which he was inducted by Stan Hansen.[]

In 2017, Inoki created a new company, ISM. ISM held its first event on June 24. On March 23, 2018, Inoki left IGF.

Political career

House of Councillors

1989-1995: First stint

Following in his father's footsteps, Inoki entered politics in 1989, when he was elected into the House of Councillors as a representative of his own Sports and Peace Party in the 1989 Japanese House of Councillors election.

Imitating Muhammad Ali in 1990, Inoki traveled to Iraq in "an unofficial one-man diplomatic mission" and successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein for the release of Japanese hostages before the outbreak of the Gulf War.[13] It was then that he personally organized a wrestling event in Iraq (?) for the purpose of freeing the 41 captive Japanese nationals which was ultimately a partial success with 36 Japanese nationals ultimately freed.[14] He subsequently retained his seat in the 1992 Japanese House of Councillors election. He failed to win re-election in the 1995 Japanese House of Councillors election following a number of scandals reported in 1994, and left politics for the next eighteen years.[15]

2013-2019: Second stint

Inoki delivering a speech in North Korea, 2014. Inoki's regular visits to the country have strained his relations with the Japanese Diet

On June 5, 2013, Inoki announced that he would again run for a seat in the Japanese Diet under the Japan Restoration Party ticket.[15][16] Inoki won the election to return to Japan's Upper House as an MP.[17][18][19]

In November 2013, he was suspended from the Diet for 30 days because of an unauthorized trip to North Korea.[20] He had visited on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the armistice in the Korean War, and had met with senior North Korean figure Kim Yong-nam during his visit.[21] This was Inoki's 27th visit to North Korea; he explained in an interview that the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens had caused the Japanese government to "close the door" on diplomacy with the North, but that the issue would not be resolved without ongoing communication, and that he saw his relationship with North Korean-born Rikid?zan as a crucial link to the people of the North.[22]

He was reportedly considering running for governor of Tokyo in 2014 following another visit to North Korea.[23]

Inoki joined the splinter of the Japanese Restoration Party, Party for Japanese Kokoro, in 2014. In January 2015, he helped to establish a new party named the Assembly to Energize Japan, which he left in 2016, to sit in the 'Independents Club'.

In September 2017, Inoki re-established his position that Japan should make more of an effort to have co-operative dialogue with North Korea, in the wake of North Korea launching ballistic missiles over Hokkaido. This was succeeded by another of Inoki's controversial trips to the nation.[24]

In June 2019, Inoki announced his retirement from politics.[25]

Mixed martial arts involvement

Inoki was amongst the group of professional wrestlers who were tutored in the art of hooking and shooting by the professional wrestler Karl Gotch. Inoki named his method of fighting "strong style." This method of wrestling (which was taught to Inoki by Gotch) borrowed heavily from professional wrestling's original catch wrestling roots, and is one of the most important influences of modern shoot wrestling.

Inoki faced many opponents from all dominant disciplines of combat from various parts of the world, such as boxers, judoka, karateka, kung fu practitioners, sumo wrestlers and professional wrestlers. These bouts included a match with then-prominent karate competitor Everett Eddy.[26] Eddy had previously competed in a mixed skills bout against boxer Horst Geisler, losing by knockout.[27] The bout with Eddy ended with the karateka knocked out by a professional wrestling powerbomb followed by a Hulk Hogan-esque leg drop. Another such match pitted Inoki against 6'7" Kyokushin karate stylist Willie "The Bear Killer" Williams. (So-called because he had allegedly fought a bear for a 1976 Japanese film entitled "The Strongest Karate 2").[28] This bout ended in a doctor stoppage after both competitors repeatedly fell out of the ring.[29] Although many of the matches were rigged and scripted, they are seen as a precursor to modern mixed martial arts. When asked about Inoki's fighting skills, business colleague Carlson Gracie stated Inoki was "one of the best fighters he'd seen."[30]

His most famous bout was against heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali on June 26, 1976, in Tokyo.[31] Inoki initially promised Ali a rigged match to get him to fight in Japan, but when the deal materialized, Ali's camp feared that Inoki would turn the fight into a shoot, which many believe was Inoki's intention. Ali visited a professional wrestling match involving Inoki and witnessed Inoki's grappling ability. The rules of the match were announced several months in advance. Two days before the match, however, several new rules were added which severely limited the moves that each man could perform. A rule change that had a major effect on the outcome of this match was that Inoki could only throw a kick if one of his knees was on the ground.[31] In the match, Ali landed a total of six punches to Inoki, and Inoki kept to his back in a defensive position almost the full duration of the match of 15 rounds, hitting Ali with a low kick repeatedly.[32] The bout ended in a draw, 3-3. Ali left without a press conference and suffered damage to his legs as a result of Inoki's repeated kicks.[33]

Following his retirement, Inoki has promoted a number of MMA events such as NJPW Ultimate Crush (which showcased pro wrestling matches and MMA matches on the same card), as well as annual Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye shows which took place on New Year's Eve in 2001, 2002 and 2003. Some of the major attractions of these events involve the best of NJPW against world-renowned fighters in mixed martial arts matches. Inoki vs. Renzo Gracie was a professional wrestling match that took place at Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2000 against mixed martial artist Renzo Gracie. Inoki was also the ambassador for the International Fight League's Tokyo entry before that promotion's demise. Additionally, Inoki's Inoki Genome Federation promoted both professional wrestling matches and mixed martial arts fights.

Personal life

Inoki was married to actress Mitsuko Baisho from 1971 to 1987, and together they had a daughter, Hiroko.[34] Inoki operates a wrestling themed restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo, named Antonio's Inoki Sakaba Shinjuku.[35] Inoki's second wife, Tazuko Tada, passed away on August 27, 2019.[36]


Inoki converted to Shia Islam in 1990 during a pilgrimage to Karbala, the Shiite holy city in Iraq. He was in Iraq negotiating for the release of several Japanese hostages.[37] This was only revealed in 2012, along with the declaration that he had changed his name to Muhammad Hussain Inoki.[13][37][38] He has also described himself as a Buddhist.[13]

In media

Inoki appears in the Japanese manga series Baki the Grappler by Keisuke Itagaki.[39]

Inoki appears in the manga Tiger Mask, in a secondary role: he is the only one who was able to win over Naoto Date, i.e. Tiger Mask, and the two became best friends subsequently.

Under the name "Kanta Inokuma" and "Armand Inokuma", Inoki appears in the manga Rasputin the Patriot by Takashi Nagasaki and Junji It?, an manga heavily based on a Japanese book Trap of the State written by ex-diplomat and political writer Masaru Sat?. The manga reveals Inoki's experience when he visited Russia and his meeting with vice president of the Soviet Union Gennady Yanayev at 1991.

Inoki appeared in the film The Bad News Bears Go to Japan as himself. A subplot in his scenes involved Inoki seeking a rematch with Ali. Gene LeBell, who also appears in these scenes as a manager of Inoki's scheduled opponent, Mean Bones Beaudine, was the referee of Inoki's match with Ali. Inoki's appearance in the film culminates with a match against the main character, Marvin Lazar (played by Tony Curtis), when Beaudine suddenly becomes unavailable to participate. Professional wrestler Héctor Guerrero served as Curtis's stunt double for the wrestling portions of this scene.

Inoki had the starring role in the film Acacia directed by Jinsei Tsuji.[40]

In Oh!Great's manga Air Gear, Inoki is regularly referred to by the author, and also the characters as an influence on their fighting style. The manga also makes several less than complimentary references to Inoki's large chin. Along with Inoki, Steve Austin of the World Wrestling Federation has been referred to in Air Gear's pages, often in naming things. (This is based on the translation by Tanoshimi Manga, and later by Ballantine Books/Del Rey Books. Other translations may omit these references).

Several episodes of the Japanese comedy show Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (most notably 2007's "Do Not Laugh at the Hospital" and 2009's "Do Not Laugh as a Hotel Man") have included parodies of Inoki. In the former, three "patients" are presented as being Inoki, with each imitating Inoki's in-ring persona; while in the latter, the guest known only as Shin Onii was asked to imitate Inoki as if he were a hotel bellhop.

In May 2021, Inoki appeared on the Vice on TV series Dark Side of the Ring in an episode covering the 1995 Collision in Korea event.[41]

Wrestlers trained

Championships and accomplishments


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External links

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