Japan wrestling legend Antonio Inoki dies at 79

Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

TOKYO: Flamboyant Japanese professional wrestler turned politician Antonio Inoki died Saturday aged 79, according to a company he founded.

His death, which public broadcaster NHK said was from heart failure, brought to an end a varied life in the public eye, during which Inoki fought Muhammad Ali, fostered close personal ties with North Korea, and helped free hostages in Iraq.

The Yokohama native -- born Kanji Inoki -- also starred in American wrestling promotions, as well as serving two separate terms in Japan´s legislature.

US wrestling legend Triple H tweeted that Inoki was “one of the most important figures in the history of our business, and a man who embodied the term ´fighting spirit´”.

“The legacy of WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki will live on forever,” added the chief operating officer of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

“Antonio Inoki, the founder of New Japan Pro-Wrestling and former professional wrestler, died in Tokyo,” the group said in a statement.

Standing 1.9 metres (six feet three inches) tall, Inoki was a pioneer of mixed martial arts in Japan, and shot to fame in 1976 for taking on world heavyweight champion Ali in a zany wrestler-versus-boxer bout in Tokyo.

There followed appearances in the WWF, as WWE was then known.

The company said Saturday: “One of the key figures in the history of Japanese wrestling, Antonio Inoki was among the most respected men in sports-entertainment and a bona fide legend in his homeland.”