Pro Wrestling
Pro Wrestling

Antonio Inoki (born Kanji Inoki February 20, 1943 - October 1, 2022) was a Japanese professional wrestler and mixed martial artist. His ring name was inspired by Antonino Rocca. In his career as a wrestler and later New Japan Pro Wrestling owner, Inoki is an icon in professional wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts.

Early life[]

Kanji 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 5 years old.

Inoki entered the Higashidai Grade School. 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. Inoki was taught karate by an older brother while in 6th grade, and was scouted for a career in professional sumo while in junior high school.

The family fell on hard times in the post-war years, and in 1957, the 14 year-old Inoki immigrated 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.

Early professional wrestling career[]

Inoki met prominent Rikidozan at the age of 17. He was brought back to Japan for the Japanese Wrestling Association as Rikidozan's disciple. One of his dojo classmates was Giant Baba. After Rikidozan's death, Inoki worked under the taller Baba's shadow until he joined the original Tokyo Pro Wrestling in 1966. Returning to JWA in late 1967, he was made Baba's partner and the two dominated the tag team ranks as the B-I Cannon, winning the NWA International tag team belts four times.

Fired from JWA in late 1971 for planning a takeover of the promotion, Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972. His first match as a New Japan wrestler was against Karl Gotch. During his career, Inoki has had classic bouts with Tiger Jeet Singh, Stan Hansen, Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Big Van Vader, and Masa Saito. In 1995 the Japanese and 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 May Day Stadium. The show featured The Steiner Brothers, Road Warrior Hawk, Hiroshi Hase, Chris Benoit, and others. The main event saw the first and only match between Inoki and Ric Flair with Inoki coming out on top. Days before this event, Antonio Inoki and the Korean press went to the grave and birthplace of Rikidozan and paid tribute to him.

On November 30, 1979 Inoki won the WWWF Championship from Bob Backlund in Tokushima, Japan but in a re-match on December 6 Backlund would pin Inoki however then WWWF president, Hisashi Shinma declared the match a no-contest due to interference from Tiger Jeet Singh. Inoki was still the champion but because of this decision Inoki would refuse the title and it would be declared vacant. Backlund would defeat Bobby Duncum in a Texas death match to regain the title on December 12. As Inoki refused the title his reign is not included by the WWE in its official history and Backlund is recognized as having one reign from 1978-1983.

Inoki as a mixed martial arts fighter[]

Antonio 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 then went on to stage a series of mixed martial arts matches against champions from numerous other disciplines of martial arts. Inoki named his method of fighting Strong style professional wrestling. This method of professional wrestling as taught to Inoki by Karl Gotch, which borrowed heavily from professional wrestling's original catch wrestling roots, is one of the most important influences of modern shoot wrestling. Antonio Inoki was a pioneer of mixed martial arts and has faced many opponents from all dominant disciplines of combat from various parts of the world, such as Akram Pahalwan in Pakistan, Willie Williams of Kyokushin Karate, Olympic judo gold medalist Willem Ruska and WBA and WBC World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali.

Though many of Inoki's matches were dismissed by the skeptics as worked, there has been little or no proof at all to suggest the validity of the worked theory and Inoki's mixed martial arts opponents have never stated that the matches were "fake". Most of the skepticism arose from the fact that Inoki was a professional wrestler, which automatically led to an assumption that the matches might have been worked. This has yet to dent the image of Inoki in the eyes of the Japanese fans, where he is still viewed as a very legitimate wrestler.

The worked theory also arises from Inoki's match with Muhammad Ali. Inoki initially promised Ali a worked match to get him to fight in Japan, 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. This led Ali's camp to restrict the fight to striking rules only, with grappling disallowed.

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, hitting Ali with a low kick repeatedly. 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 leg kicks.

Final countdown and retirement[]

Inoki's retirement from professional wrestling matches came with the staging of the "Final Countdown" series in 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. Inoki faced Don Frye in the final match of his professional wrestling career.

One of the few professional wrestlers whose career lasted longer than 35 years, Inoki established the "strong style", using stiff and realistic maneuvers borrowing from professional wrestling's original catch wrestling roots. Shoot style wrestling arose from Inoki's "strong style".

Influence in mixed martial arts[]

Many of Inoki's disciples, including the original Tiger Mask Satoru Sayama, Masakatsu Funaki, Nobuhiko Takada, Minoru Suzuki, Akira Maeda, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuyuki Fujita, among others, have had success in mixed martial arts, and the roster of NJPW is known to have pioneered mixed martial arts federations including RINGS, Shooto, Pride, and Pancrase.

It is due to Antonio Inoki that fighters like Naoya Ogawa, Josh Barnett, Wallid Ismail and Ryoto Machida have actively represented NJPW in mixed martial arts events giving notoriety to it and professional wrestling.

Inoki continued to bring fighters like Mark Coleman, Quinton Jackson, Dan Bobish to the professional wrestling ring for organizing of professional wrestling events like HUSTLE.

Antonio Inoki also organized Mixed Martial Arts events like "NJPW Ultimate Crush" and "Jungle Fight", showing traditional professional wrestling matches and mixed martial arts matches on the same card. Some of the major attractions of these events involved the best of NJPW against world renowned fighters in mixed martial arts matches.

At Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2000 Inoki faced off against mixed martial artist Renzo Gracie.

Antonio Inoki's Inoki Dojos are also known to have cross-trained wrestlers like Ken Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba, Chris Benoit and Samoa Joe.

Decline in influence[]

Collimating in 2006, Inoki's influence within New Japan has declined. An example of this has been the purchase of his image by YUKE, who in 2005 purchased his controlling 51.5% stock in New Japan. As a result, New Japan are now able to control Inoki's appearances and the use of his image.

Political career[]

In 1989, Inoki established the Sports and Peace Party. He was elected to the House of Councilors of the National Diet of Japan. Inoki was the first pro-wrestler in the world to be elected as a legislator of a country. He continued to wrestle and promote while serving as a legislator.

Inoki was the first government official from a democratic nation to have a political meeting with Fidel Castro of Cuba. He also met with Saddam Hussein for the release of prisoners from Iraq before the Gulf War. As is the traditional gift for a visiting head-of-state, Saddam gave Inoki a pair of golden swords.

He served in the Diet until 1995, when he failed to win re-election, after accusations of Yakuza involvement and bribery lead to a decline in his popularity.


  • Inoki is one of the founders of Kansuiryu Karate.
  • Inoki was married to actress Mitsuko Baisho from 1971 to 1987. Initially the wedding was going to be paid by JWA, but JWA fired him in late 1971, so Inoki had to form NJPW to keep feeding his new family. Inoki and Baisho have a daughter, Hiroko (who uses her father's surname). Hiroko is married to Simon Inoki, who in 2005 was named President of NJPW.
  • Antonio Inoki started the Universal Fighting Arts Organization with Satoru Sayama and Naoya Ogawa in 1997. The organization is no longer in the business since 2002 after the Tokyo Dome show.
  • Inoki appeared in the movie, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, as a wrestler.
  • During one visit to a school in the 80's, Inoki was punched twice by a student. Inoki slapped the student across the face, knocking him down. The student, who later turned out to be an Inoki fan, then rose, bowed deeply, and thanked Inoki for the slap. The incident became very famous as the then live clip of the binta (slap in the face) was shown many times on Japanese television. Now various celebrities and even common people in Japan ask Inoki to slap them to install courage or even as some sort of strange blessing. The slap's name is the "Fighting Spirit (or Toukon) Slap." (闘魂ビンタ)
  • His theme song is "Honō No Fighter" (炎のファイター). It was originally used in the 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest and was given the rights to the music by Ali as a present of respect. While he normally uses a Samba version during his entrances, during his retirement "Final Countdown" a Harpist played the song live at events. An orchestral version has also been used in various situations, including the presentation of trophies after tournaments. The theme also has a line that goes "Inoki Bom-by-ye!" which is a tribute to Muhammad Ali, who heard a similar battle cry (Ali Bom-by-ye) during his trip in Africa to promote Rumble In The Jungle.

In wrestling[]

  • Nicknames
    • "Moeru Toukon" (Fighting Spirit that Burns)
  • Wrestlers trained

Championships and accomplishments[]

External links[]

1991 PWI Top 500 Wrestlers
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