Antonio Inoki: The famous Japanese wrestler-turned-politician dies at the age of 79


Former Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki has died at the age of 79, according to his organization.

Inoki – one of Japan’s most famous wrestlers – faced boxer Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match in 1976.

The New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) – a Japanese wrestling promotion organization founded by Inoki in 1972 – tweeted Saturday that it is “deeply saddened by the passing of our founder Antonio Inoki”.

“His achievements, both in professional wrestling and in the global community, are unparalleled and will never be forgotten,” the tweet added, saying the organization’s thoughts are “with Inoki’s family, friends and fans.”

Kanji Inoki was born on February 20, 1943 in Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, and moved to Brazil with his family at the age of 13, according to an NJPW statement. In Brazil he met his mentor and pro wrestling star Rikidozan who discovered him.

After his debut in 1960, Inoki became one of the most well-known wrestlers in the world, fighting Ali in a rare match between a wrestler and a boxer, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) said in a statement, “paving the way for the advent of mixed martial.” Arts that would explode in popularity decades later.”

WWE inducted Inoki into its Hall of Fame in 2010.

Inoki was the first in his sport to enter politics and was elected a member of the Upper House – Japan’s National Assembly – in both 1989 and 2013, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported on Saturday.

He also promoted peace through sports and made several trips to North Korea during his time as lawmaker to improve ties between Pyongyang and Tokyo, NHK added.

He organized a wrestling match in Pyongyang in 2014, attended by American professional wrestling stars. The trip came at a time when Japan-North Korea relations were thawing over the issue of kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

CNN was invited to the event, where the stars of the show – including former NFL star Bob “The Beast” Sapp – took part in arm wrestling and tug-of-war competitions with Pyongyang locals.

According to the NJPW, before his death, Inoki had been battling a rare disease called amyloidosis, which affects the body’s organs.