On Saturday, the company he co-founded announced that Antonio Inoki, a former professional wrestler who became a politician and became famous for his match with Muhammad Ali and ties to North Korea, had passed away at the age of 79 after a long battle with a rare ailment.
The company he founded in 1972 tweeted, “New Japan Pro-Wrestling is extremely devastated at the demise of our founder, Antonio Inoki.” “His accomplishments in professional wrestling and the world at large are unparalleled and will never be forgotten.”
Inoki rose to prominence as a professional wrestler in Japan throughout the 1960s. In 1976, he had an MMA fight with boxing great Muhammad Ali that was dubbed “the bout of the century” and catapulted him to international stardom.
The lanky, 6-foot-3-inch (6-foot-and-a-half inch) performer decided to run for office in 1989 and was elected to Japan’s upper chamber of parliament. He went to Iraq the next year during the Gulf War and successfully negotiated the release of Japanese hostages, making headlines back home.
Many people took to social media to pay their respects to Inoki. Former pro wrestler and current Japanese lawmaker Atsushi Onita tweeted, “An era has come to an end.”
“Inoki-san, I appreciate it. The pro wrestling industry’s granddaddy, “He put pen to paper.
According to Triple H, a former wrestler and now the chief content officer of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc (WWE.N), Inoki was “one of the most influential figures in the history of our profession and a man who embodied the term ‘fighting spirit.’”
Inoki’s early pro-wrestling hero Rikidozan was from North Korea but could never return after the Korean Peninsula was separated by war, therefore Inoki and the country became close.
He spoke with high-ranking officials during his several legislative trips to Pyongyang and suggested Tokyo mediate between the two countries over their nuclear dispute.
In 1995, he orchestrated a two-day wrestling spectacular called “Collision in Korea” that drew over a hundred thousand people to Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium. In the main event, Inoki used his trademark “enzuigiri”—a jumping kick to the back of the head—to defeat Ric Flair.
Systemic amyloidosis is a rare illness caused by an accumulation of a protein called amyloid in the organs; on his YouTube channel, “Antonio Inoki’s Last Fighting Spirit,” he was shown going in and out of the hospital in the last few years, raising a clenched fist as he went for treatment.