Antonio Inoki dies in 79, a legend of wrestling who famously faced Muhammad Ali during a mixed-rules fight.


Antonio Inoki, the Japanese professional wrestling legend and mixed martial arts pioneer, has died at the age of 79.

His death was announced by Yahoo Japan . Inoki had been battling with various health issues for many years. Inoki eventually ended up in a wheelchair.

An athlete all his life, Inoki took up wrestling while training under another Japanese legend in Rikidozan, as well as catch wrestling icon Karl Gotch, which eventually led him to professional wrestling. He rose to fame through his matches in the 1960s and 1970s while often blurring the line between what was scripted and what was reality.

Inoki is one of the performers that learned catch wrestling from Gotch. They then adapted it into a style which allowed them to compete against martial artists across many disciplines including boxing and judo.

The most famous mixed rules match that Inoki ever participated in took place in 1976 when he faced multi-time boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in Japan.

The bout promoted boxer against wrestler, with very few rules in place to stop either one of the athletes from having an advantage. Judo legend Gene LeBell served as referee for the 15-round match, which saw Inoki consistently fall to his back and kick at Ali’s legs without much engaging outside of those brief exchanges.

Ali was reported to have landed six strikes during the fight. Inoki, however, resisted the temptation and opted for kicking his back up until Inoki won.

Inoki, despite his retirement from active competition was still an important part of the Japanese professional wrestling scene and in martial arts.

He promoted MMA fights as part of New Japan Pro Wrestling — the organization he founded in 1972 — with mixed cards that featured both fights and professional wrestling matches. Inoki also famously promoted the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye shows that traditionally took place on New Year’s Eve, which featured a number of high-profile fighters including Mirko Cro Cop, Don Frye, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Inoki was also an ambassador to the no longer-existent International Fight League. There, he represented a group of Japanese fighters.

In addition to his career as both an athlete and a promoter, Inoki was also deeply rooted in Japanese politics, being elected to several different offices over the course of his career.