Antonio Inoki: Famous Japanese wrestler turned politician dies aged 79
Former Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki has died at the age of 79, according to his organization.
Inoki – who was one of Japan’s best-known wrestlers – faced boxing great Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match in 1976.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) – a Japanese wrestling promotion organization founded by Inoki in 1972 – tweeted on Saturday that he was « deeply saddened by the passing of our founder, Antonio Inoki ».
« His accomplishments, both in professional wrestling and in the global community, are unparalleled and will never be forgotten, » the tweet added, saying the organization’s thoughts « are with family, friends and loved ones. Inoki fans ».
Born Kanji Inoki on February 20, 1943 in Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, he moved to Brazil with his family when he was 13, according to an NJPW statement. In Brazil, he met his mentor and pro wrestling star Rikidozan, who scouted him.
After debuting in 1960, Inoki became one of the world’s best-known wrestlers and went on to fight Ali in a rare match between a wrestler and a boxer in a contest that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) claims in a statement, « paved the way for the advent of mixed martial arts, which would explode in popularity decades later ».
WWE inducted Inoki into its hall of fame in 2010.
Inoki was the first in his sport to enter politics and was elected as a member of the upper house in the Diet – Japan’s National Assembly – in 1989 and 2013, Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported on Saturday.
He also promoted peace through sports and made several trips to North Korea during his tenure as lawmaker to improve relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo, NHK added.
He hosted a wrestling match in Pyongyang in 2014, involving American pro wrestling stars. The trip came at a time of a thaw in relations between Japan and North Korea over the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
CNN was invited to the event which saw the show’s stars – including former NFL star Bob « The Beast » Sapp – join arm-wrestling and tug-of-war competitions with locals. Pyongyang.
Inoki had battled a rare condition called amyloidosis — which affects organs in the body — before his death, according to NJPW.