Antonio Inoki 1943-2022: Japan's "Last Fighting Spirit"
October 1, 2022 4:45 PM   Subscribe

News outlets around the world have reported the death of Antonio Inoki. A student of Japanese professional wrestling legends Rikidōzan and Karl Gotch, Inoki's life would encompass professional wrestling, the genesis of mixed martial arts, and international politics.

An extended story of his career would take up an entire essay, but some highlights:

1972: Founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling, which continues to this day, and includes shows in Japan, a touring show in North America, and many many alumni who went on to headline WWE, WCW, AEW, and other national promotions.

1976: Inoki met Muhammad Ali in a special exhibition match at Nippon Budokan. Opinions differ on whether Ali refused to risk serious injury prior to his rematch with Frazier, or whether Inoki wouldn't "book" (i.e. script) himself to lose, but even with a unique rule set that was altered several times prior to the match, the two men fought to a draw that is considered the "birth of MMA."

In 1989, Inoki founded his own "Sports and Peace" political party and was elected to Japan's Sangiin, the House of Councillors. In 1990, he would take advantage of his political and sports fame to become a one-man unauthorized diplomatic envoy to Iraq, traveling back and forth to negotiate the release of Japanese hostages of Saddam Hussein.

In 1995 he undertook "pro wrestling diplomacy" again, spearheading the Pyongyang International Sports and Culture Festival for Peace (known in the U.S. as "Collision in Korea", a two-day even attended by over 300,000 people. Working with WCW, the show featured both Japanese and American talent including Chris Benoit, 2 Cold Scorpio and the Steiner Brothers, culminating in a main event where Inoki booked himself to defeat Ric Flair. For several reasons, this event is not available on the WWE Network, however Vice's "Dark Side of the Ring" episode about it is very informative. Inoki felt strongly that Japan should make efforts to maintain diplomatic relationships with North Korea, and would make 27 personal trips there before retiring from politics.

On Inoki's personal YouTube page, the "Last Fighting Spirit" had been straight-forward with his audience about his trips into and out of the hospital and struggling with infirmity, saying "I want to fight and win against my illness and show the face that everyone expects of me."

Longtime Wrestling Observer Newsletter journalist Dave Meltzer has recorded a more extensive memorial video. Inoki was inducted into the WON Hall of Fame, the WWE Hall of Fame, and several others since his retirement.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta (13 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
posted by evilDoug at 4:50 PM on October 1, 2022

Died on the 60th anniversary of his wrestling debut. The man knew how to make an exit.
posted by Etrigan at 5:01 PM on October 1, 2022

Ali had a bunch of blood clots around his knees after the bout, so I doubt that he could have done much more than he did.
posted by jamjam at 5:07 PM on October 1, 2022

I'd always read that Ali suffered pretty bad leg injuries due to the "fight" with Inoki.

Still, I'll miss him showing up to Gakitsuka every New Year's and absolutely smacking the shit out of some of the comedians.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:34 PM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

They showed a clip of his last YouTube upload on the news the other day, where he talked about how his failing voice was now his enemy, and then commented, well, if I’ve still got enemies, that’s a good sign, right
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:44 AM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

posted by box at 7:45 AM on October 2, 2022

posted by Canageek at 9:49 AM on October 2, 2022

posted by ishmael at 10:42 AM on October 2, 2022

posted by dogstoevski at 12:12 AM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

posted by tdismukes at 7:23 AM on October 3, 2022

posted by adekllny at 1:24 PM on October 3, 2022

Pouring a bottle of Tabasco sauce out on a pizza for my fallen homie Inoki.
posted by The genius who rejected Anno's budget proposal. at 7:10 AM on October 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

NJPW was set to announce Inoki as Honorary Lifetime Chairman at their show this weekend.
posted by Etrigan at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

« Older A wide variety of entertainment recommendations   |   Death By Social Media Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments