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Antonio Inoki, a martial arts pioneer, influential politician and larger-than-life figure in his native Japan, died Friday at the age of 79, the promotion he founded, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, said. announced by

The cause of Inoki’s death has not been made public, but his health deteriorated in recent years and he was forced to use a wheelchair.

Inoki retired from politics in 2019. Although he was exposed to many parts of Japanese culture during his lifetime and became one of Japan’s most famous figures, Inoki is best known for his work in the sport of combat as a professional wrestler, promoter and fighter. was Most notably his match with Muhammad Ali.

Inoki was the most important professional wrestler in Japanese history, selling out countless arenas and stadiums since the 1970s. He is also the first Japanese wrestler to win a WWF Championship (although whose reign is not currently recognized by WWE), and in 2010 he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

On June 26, 1976, Inoki fought Muhammad Ali in perhaps the most high-profile mixed rules match of all time. With a background in amateur wrestling and judo, Inoki trained under catch wrestler Karl Gotch and developed a fighting methodology he called “Strong Style”. was one of the most famous in the world.

Ali vs. Inoki is the direct ancestor of mixed martial arts, which has become a global sport led by the UFC, which was founded in 1993. Ali vs. Inoki is his one of the most watched matches of that generation. In addition to the sold-out crowd of over 14,000 at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, it was aired on closed circuits around the world.

New York’s Shea Stadium televised the match on the big screen, drawing a crowd of 32,897 on the undercard of the professional wrestling and mixed rules match. Ali vs. Inoki ended in a draw, but Inoki spent most of the 15-round match lying on his back, kicking Ali’s leg and kicking him over 100 times. I injured my leg.

Boxing was the most popular combat sport at the time, especially in the United States, but the Ali vs. Inoki bout gave many the idea that boxing might not be the best style for winning a more fluid and inclusive fight. of people. Decades and years after Ali vs. Inoki, the debate raged until the dawn of the UFC.

In the run-up to his historic boxing match with Floyd Mayweather, UFC superstar Conor McGregor counted Ali vs. Inoki as having an influence on him when it came to his crossover fight with Mayweather. times. Brazilian jiu-jitsu pioneer Carlson Gracie once said that Inoki was “one of the best fighters I’ve ever seen.”

In a media scrum before his fight with Mayweather, McGregor said, “Ali reached out and tried to punch him, but he ended up being swept away.” At that moment, if I had left him alone for 5 seconds, 10 more seconds, Inoki would have had his neck, arms, limbs, and his entire face involved.” The world of battle would have changed on the spot. ”

In the current landscape of combat sports, where it’s common for boxers to fight MMA fighters and professional wrestlers to fight YouTubers, Ali vs. Inoki was way ahead of his time.

Inoki used the popularity he gained from fighting Ali to become the most popular professional wrestler in Japanese history. He founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in his 1972 and has been the promotion’s biggest star for over a decade, with massive wrestling with Hulk Hogan, Dory He Funk Jr., Big Van He Vader, Bruiser Brody, and more. I’ve played a game.

However, it was also Inoki’s vision to merge professional wrestling with what came to be known as MMA. supported. It was so popular that it was later acquired by the UFC. Inoki has participated in many pride shows, participating as part of the introduction ceremony, and in Pride Shockwave 2002 he performed his skydive from a plane to the Tokyo National Stadium in front of over 90,000 people.

Inoki promoted several hybrid MMA and professional wrestling cards in the 2000s. In 1998, he faced current UFC Hall of Famer Don Frye in front of 70,000 people at the Tokyo Dome.

During that time, Inoki opened a training academy for MMA fighters and professional wrestlers in Los Angeles, called the Inoki Dojo. are enrolled. Inoki managed and taught Machida early in his great MMA career.

“For me, it all started when no one knew me and Inoki gave me the unique opportunity to become a professional athlete,” Machida told ESPN. “In Japanese there is a word ‘guri’ which means to recognize the person who did something first. [someone] He never had a chance and he did it for me.

“I really appreciate everything he has done for the fighting world and what he has represented as a human being and as a fighter. Thank you my godfather and RIP.”

Outside of sports, Inoki was also very influential in the world of politics. He founded his own political party, the Sports and Peace Party, and was elected to the Japanese House of Councilors in 1989. Inoki said he flew to Iraq as a diplomatic envoy in 1996 and negotiated with Saddam Hussein for the release of 36 Japanese hostages.

He was also an elected politician in the Japanese government from 2013 to 2019, controversially claiming to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea. Former professional wrestler Rikidozan is from North Korea.

Inoki helped organize a two-day professional wrestling festival in Japan in 1995, attracting 150,000 people on the first day and 190,000 on the second day. Inoki defeated Ric Flair in the main event, the only time the two legends wrestled each other.