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Antonio Inoki, a wrestler and politician who once fought Muhammad Ali, has died at 79

Antonio Inoki, a well-known professional wrestler and lawmaker from Japan, has died at the age of 79. In 1976, he fought world boxing champion Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match.

Inoki made professional wrestling in Japan famous and was the first person to put together matches between top wrestlers and champions from other combat sports like judo, karate, and boxing. These matches are called mixed martial arts.

He was also the first person in his sport to run for office. During his time as a lawmaker, he tried to make peace and friendship with North Korea by going there more than 30 times. He did this through sports.

Inoki died early Saturday morning. He had been sick with a rare disease called amyloidosis. He was the founder and president of the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co. Even though he had a disease, Inoki was happy and in a good mood.

Inoki's last public appearance was on a TV show in August. He was in a wheelchair and wore his signature red scarf around his neck.

"As you can see, I'm pushing myself to the limit, and every time I get to see you, I feel stronger," he said.

After retiring from wrestling, Inoki served as a Japanese politician.
After retiring from wrestling, Inoki served as a Japanese politician.
Inoki founded the New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Inoki founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
ullstein bild via Getty Images

Kanji Inoki was born in 1943 in Yokohama, which is near Tokyo. When he was 13, he moved to Brazil with his family and worked on a coffee plantation. As a student, Inoki became well-known in his area for his shot put. At 17, he started his career as a professional wrestler while on tour in Brazil. There, he caught the attention of Rikidozan, who is known as the father of Japanese professional wrestling.

Inoki started wrestling professionally in 1960, and two years later, he gave himself the ring name Antonio Inoki.

With the late Shohei "Giant" Baba, his rival and another Japanese legend, Inoki helped make pro wrestling a very popular sport in Japan. In 1972, Inoki began New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

In 1976, he fought Ali in a mixed martial arts match at Tokyo's Budokan hall. This was known as "the fight of the century" by fans of the sport.

Dubbed "The Fight-of-the-Century" Antonio Inoki fought Muhammad Ali in Japan.
Dubbed “The Fight-of-the-Century” Antonio Inoki fought Muhammad Ali in Japan.
The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Imag

Inoki got into politics in 1989 when he won a seat in the upper house, one of Japan's two chambers of parliament, and became leader of the Sports and Peace Party. In 1990, he went to Iraq to try to get Japanese people held as hostages there to let them go. He also put on a professional wrestling show in North Korea.

Over the years, Inoki got to know people in North Korea and went there several times to help solve Japan's long-standing problem with Japanese people being taken to the North in the past.

In 1998, he stopped wrestling, but he stayed involved in politics until 2019.


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