No athlete in the history of combat sports has been more influential than Antonio Inoki. How many other professional wrestlers have in common Opponents in Superman? Inoki is one degree away from Clark Kent for his 1976 bout against Muhammad Ali, then the WBC and WBA heavyweight champion with a 53-2 record. The giant pair fought for a draw in a round that was seen as a harbinger of mixed martial arts.
Inoki passed away at 79 a.m. early Saturday, leaving an incomparable legacy. He founded New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and trained many of Japan’s most famous professional wrestlers including Masahiro Chono, The Great Muta and Shinsuke Nakamura. He is a six-time, one-armed and one-fingered Celebrity, including the WWE Hall of Fame and the International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Inoki won the main event of popularity Collision in Korea a two-day PPV event, taking place under both the NJPW and World Championship Wrestling banners, beating teammates Ric Flair squared circle legend. Total attendance at lavish wrestling has been disputed but is thought to be around 350,000 people combined for both performances – the highest total in professional wrestling history.
His popularity became so popular that Inoki had a career outside of wrestling. While still wrestling, he was elected to the House of Representatives of Japan, the equivalent of the United States House of Representatives. During his first political term, Inoki successfully negotiated with then-Iraq President Saddam Hussein, freeing Japanese hostages before the beginning of the Gulf War. Inoki served another term in the House of Representatives beginning in 2013. Inoki retired from professional wrestling in 1998, with his final fight against UFC Hall of Famer Don Frye.
An unrecognized ancestor of mixed martial arts and forever changing the professional wrestling landscape, Inoki has built a combat sports empire larger than Fedor Emelianenko, Bas Ruten, Dana White, Ted Turner, or Vince McMahon. Combined with his mainstream global appeal, there won’t be another Inoki.