Infamous combat sports veteran Antonio Inoki dies at 79

Inoki was famous for his work in combat sports as a professional wrestler, promoter, and mixed martial artist—most famously, his participation in first ever MMA bout against Muhammad Ali—is what made him most renowned.

Inoki faced Ali on June 26, 1976. This was perhaps the most well-known mixed-rules matchup in history. Inoki had experience in judo and amateur wrestling. He studied with catch wrestler Karl Gotch and created a technique he named “strong style.” Of course, Ali was at the time one of the best boxers in the world and very well-known on a worldwide scale.

The match was broadcast on closed-circuit throughout the globe in addition to the sold-out audience of more than 14,000 in the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. It attracted a crowd of 32,897 to Shea Stadium in New York, where the event was shown on the stadium’s big screen.

Although Ali and Inoki’s bout finished in a draw, Inoki spent most of the 15 rounds on his back, kicking at Ali’s legs more than 100 times. Ali suffered injuries to his legs throughout the bout and endured significantly more punishment than Inoki did.

Boxing was by far the most popular combat sport at the time, particularly in the United States. However, Ali vs. Inoki gave many people the idea that perhaps boxing wasn’t the best style to win a more fluid, all-encompassing conflict. This debate persisted for years after Ali vs. Inoki until the birth of the UFC.

Antonio Inoki was also a powerful politician, and a legendary icon in Japan. He passed away on Friday at the age of 79.

The organization he created, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, made the announcement. Although the reason for Inoki’s passing was not made public, he had recently developed health issues and was confined to a wheelchair.

Inoki ended his political career in 2019. Inoki was one of the most well-known figures in Japan during his lifetime and had a profound impact on many aspects of Japanese society. However,

From the 1970s and on, Inoki was the most significant professional wrestler in Japanese history. He sold out innumerable arenas and stadiums. Inoki was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010 and was also the first Japanese wrestler to win the WWF title (albeit the reign is not now acknowledged by WWE).

Ali vs. Inoki was much ahead of its time in the contemporary combat sports world.

Inoki leveraged the fame he acquired by competing against Ali to become the most well-known professional wrestler in Japanese history. He established New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972. He was the promotion’s greatest star for over a decade, competing in memorable fights against wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Dory Funk Jr., Big Van Vader, and Bruiser Brody.

It was also Inoki’s idea to combine pro wrestling with mixed martial arts, which later became known as MMA. Nobuhiko Takada, one of his pupils, assisted in founding the MMA organization PRIDE FC in 1997. It quickly gained popularity and was eventually acquired by the UFC.

Rizin promoter and Pride creator Nobuyuki Sakakibara stated on Instagram,

“I have learned so much from Mr. Inoki. The ‘Toukon’ spirit has been inherited to RIZIN from PRIDE. I really wished he could step into the RIZIN ring. I am devastated. May his soul Rest In Peace.”


Inoki made a lot of political waves outside of athletics as well. In 1989, he established the Sports and Peace Party, a political party of his own. He won the election to the Japanese House of Councilors. On a one-man diplomatic trip to Iraq in 1996, Inoki secured the release of 36 Japanese captives with Saddam Hussein.

From 2013 to 2019, he served as an elected lawmaker in the Japanese government and made headlines by arguing in favor of keeping up diplomatic relations with North Korea. Inoki and North Korea have long-standing ties.