Wrestling Legend, NJPW Founder Antonio Inoki Passes Away

The legendary Inoki was 79

Antonio Inoki, the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling, and one of the most popular and influential stars in the history of Japanese professional wrestling, passed away Saturday at age 79, as confirmed by Yahoo News Japan.

The cause of death was reported as amyloidosis. Inoki had battled health problems in recent years, and was confined to a wheelchair.

Inoki entered professional wrestling as a teenager in 1960, falling under the tutelage of Rikidozan and Karl Gotch. Later in the sixties, Inoki gained his first measure of fame as tag team partner of dojo classmate Shohei "Giant" Baba, with whom he reigned four times as NWA International Tag Team champion.

Inoki fell out with the Japanese Wrestling Association in 1971, and formed New Japan the following year.

In his time as an active wrestler in New Japan, Inoki held the IWGP Heavyweight title on three occasions (twice with the "original" version prior to 1987, and as the original holder of the version commissioned in 1987). He was also an eight-time winner of the tournaments that predated what is today the G1 Climax, winning the MSG League every year from 1978 to 1981, and winning the IWGP League in 1984, as well as every year from 1986 to 1988.

In 1976, Inoki took part in one of the strangest spectacles in sports history when he "fought" Muhammad Ali in a confounding boxer/wrestler challenge in Tokyo. Though the match was considered a farce, it was nonetheless influential on the development of mixed martial arts.

Nearly 20 years later, Inoki and Ali were star attractions of the infamous "Collision in Korea" in Pyongyang. It was there that Inoki had his one and only match against Ric Flair, in front of a reported 190,000 spectators at 1st of May Stadium.

Inoki also holds a unique legacy in WWE history, having "unofficially" reigned as WWE champion for a brief period in 1979, after defeating Bob Backlund. WWE, however, does not recognize the title change. Inoki was inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame in 2010.

Inoki officially retired from the ring in 1998. He sold his interests in New Japan to Yuke's in 2005, before going on to form the Inoki Genome Federation. 

During his time in wrestling, Inoki had a hand in training all-time greats such as The Great Muta, Shinya Hashimoto, Masahiro Chono, Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, Hiroshi Hase, and Satoru Sayama (the original Tiger Mask), among many others.

Inoki also had a prolific career in politics, serving two stints in Japan's House of Councillors - the first from 1989 to 1995, and the second from 2013 to 2019.

Cultaholic extends its condolences to Mr. Inoki's family and friends.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.