The founder of NJPW and pro wrestling icon Antonio Inoki has died.
He was 79-years-old. Inoki was diagnosed with heart disease in 2020.
Inoki was the very first IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the first Japanese WWF Heavyweight Champion but the WWE never recognized his reign.
Inoki beat Bob Backlund in Japan to become WWF Heavyweight Champion. He later gave up the title and it was declared vacant. Backlund would win back the title with the WWE deciding to erase Inoki’s reign from the history books.
Inoki founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972 after being fired from the Japanese Wrestling Association where he and Giant Baba won the NWA International Tag Team Championship belts four times.
Inoki fought Muhammad Ali on June 26, 1976, at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo, Japan, in a match billed as The War of the Worlds. Officiated by Gene LeBell, the bout was declared a draw.
In 1989, Inoki entered the world of politics winning two terms in the House of Councillors and before the Gulf War even began he negotiated with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to release Japanese hostages. He retired from wrestling in 1998.
Inoki was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010 and appeared off and on again for NJPW in an official capacity.
ANTONIO INOKI STORIES
- Oct. 2, 2022: Antonio Inoki leaves behind a complicated, dual legacy
- May 20, 2021: ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ sells the sizzle on Collision in Korea
- June 4, 2016: Wrestling world remembers Muhammad Ali
- Mar. 28, 2010: WWE Hall of Fame ceremony a serious event
- Mar. 17, 2010: Hansen, WWE salute Inoki’s courage, innovations
- Nov. 26, 2008: Savage, Orndroff, Graham top 2009 PWHF induction list
- July 16, 2005: Tragos/Thesz Hall inducts six more