Antonio Inoki

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Antonio Inoki
Ring name(s) Antonio Inoki
Tokyo Tom
Real name Inoki Kanji
Nickname(s) "Moeru Toukon" (Fighting Spirit that Burns)
Billed height 190 cm (6 ft 3 in)
Billed weight 102 kg (220 lb; 16.1 st)
Born 1943/2/20 (1943-02-20) (age 75)
Yokohama, Japan
Shishō Rikidōzan
Karl Gotch
Debut 1960/9/30
Retired 1998/4/4

Antonio Inoki (アントニオ猪木?) (b. 1943/2/20) is a retired professional wrestler, promoter, congressman, and entrepreneur who now resides in New York City. His real name is Inoki Kanji (猪木寛至?). He is also the founder of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Along with Giant Baba, Inoki is one of the most popular Japanese wrestlers in the history.

Early life

Inoki was born in an affluent family in Yokohama in 1943. He was the sixth son and the second youngest of the seven boys and four girls. His father, Sajirō, a businessman and politician, died when Kanji was five years old. Inoki entered the Higashidai Grade School. Inoki was taught karate by an older brother while in 6th grade. By the time he was in 7th grade at Terao Junior High School, he was 180 centimeters tall and joined the basketball team. He later quit and joined a track and field club as a shot putter. He eventually won the championship at the Yokohama Junior High School track and field competition.

The family fell on hard times in the post-war years, and in 1957, the 14 year-old Inoki immigrated to Brazil with his grandfather, mother and brothers. His grandfather died during the journey to Brazil. Inoki won regional championships in Brazil in the shot put, discus throw, and javelin throw, and finally the All Brazilian championships in the shot put and discus.[1]

Professional wrestling career

Japan Pro-Wrestling Association (1960-1966)

At the age of 17, Inoki was scouted by Rikidōzan, who promoted a card in São Paulo, Brazil on 1960/4/11. He went back to Japan for the Japan Pro-Wrestling Association (JWA) as Rikidōzan's deshi. One of his dōjō classmates was Giant Baba.

Both Inoki and Baba had debut matches 1960/9/30 at Daitō Ward Gym in Tokyo, and Inoki lost to Ōki Kintarō in the match. His ring name "Antonio" was given by Toyonobori because Rikidōzan wanted to push him as a second generation Japanese-Brazilian.

After Rikidōzan's death on 1963/12/15, Inoki publically admitted that he was a Japanese native. He was then sent to the United States, like many rookies were, and spent two years there. While he lived in the U.S., he was married to an American woman had a daughter who would later pass away.

Tokyo Pro Wrestling (1966-1967)

On the way back from the U.S. to Japan, Inoki was scouted by Toyonobori, who had been kicked out of JWA, to start Tokyo Pro Wrestling in 1966. Toyonoboi convinced Inoki by saying that he would only be under the taller Baba's shadow if he continues to work for JWA.

The main event of the Tokyo Pro's opening card was a match that old fans still talk about to this day, Inoki versus Johnny Valentine. This match made Inoki a bigger star than he was.

Unfortunately, the company folded in 1967, due to turmoil behind the scenes. Tokyo Pro joined another newly started promotion, Kokusai Puroresu (IWE), and Inoki also wrestled for the organization briefly before he was brought back to JWA.

Japan Pro-Wrestling Association (1967-1971)

Returning to JWA in late 1967, Inoki was made the second top star under Baba, and the two dominated the tag team division as the "B-I Cannon", winning the NWA International Tag Team Championship four times.

In addition to Nippon Television, NET (today's TV Asahi) also started airing a weekly program for JWA. The three parties reached to an agreement that any match with Baba would be aired on NTV while the NET show would feature Inoki, NWA United National Heavyweight Champion, as the top star of the program. Also, his bout against NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dory Funk Jr. became another match about which people still talk to this day.

Despite his stardom, Inoki was unsatisfied with the company. Inoki continued to challenge Baba for a match, but JWA kept declining his request by saying, "too early." Also, due to the organization's unclear financial record, Inoki planned a takeover of the company with Baba and other wrestlers, but when someone leaked the plan to the company, the management convinced Baba to join them, and Inoki found himself expelled.

New Japan Pro-Wrestling (1972-1998)

Main article: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

Fired from JWA in late 1971, Inoki founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling in 1972 with his followers Yamamoto Kotetsu, Fujinami Tatsumi, and Kido Osamu. The main event of New Japan's opening card was a match where Inoki lost to his shishō, Karl Gotch.

Inoki was amongst the group of professional wrestlers who were tutored in the art of hooking and shooting by Karl Gotch. Inoki named his method of fighting "strong style". This method of wrestling (which was taught to Inoki by Gotch) borrowed heavily from professional wrestling's original catch wrestling roots. It is one of the most important influences of modern shoot wrestling.

Mixed Martial Arts

Inoki was also a pioneer of mixed martial arts and faced many opponents from all dominant disciplines of combat sports from various parts of the world, such as Akram Pahalwan in Pakistan, Willie Williams of Kyokushin Karate, Olympic jūdō gold medalist Willem Ruska, and world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

Though many of Inoki's matches were dismissed by the skeptics as worked, there has been little proof at all to suggest the validity of the worked theory and Inoki's mixed martial arts opponents have never stated that the matches were "fake". Most of the skepticism arose from the fact that Inoki was a professional wrestler, which automatically led to an assumption that the matches might have been worked.

The worked theory also arises from Inoki's 1976/7/26 match in Tokyo with Muhammad Ali.[2] Inoki initially promised Ali a worked match to get him to fight in Japan, but when the deal materialized Ali's camp feared that Inoki would turn the fight into a shoot, which many believe was Inoki's intention. Ali visited Inoki's public sparring and witnessed his grappling ability. The rules of the match were announced several months in advance. Two days before the match, however, several new rules were added which severely limited the moves that each man could perform. A rule change that had a major outcome on this match was that Inoki could only throw a kick if one of his knees was on the ground.[2] In the match, Ali landed a total of six punches to Inoki, and Inoki kept to his back in a defensive position almost the full duration of the match of 15 rounds, hitting Ali with a low kick repeatedly.[3] The bout ended in a draw, 3-3. Ali left without a press conference and suffered damage to his legs as a result of Inoki's repeated leg kicks.[4]

Inoki is also one of the founders of Kansuiryu Karate.[5]

Final countdown and retirement (1994-1998)

Inoki's retirement from professional wrestling matches came with the staging of the "Final Countdown" series between 1994 and 1998. This was a special series in which Inoki re-lived some of his mixed martial arts matches under professional wrestling rules, as well as rematches of some of his most well known wrestling matches. Inoki faced Don Frye in the final match of his professional wrestling career.

In 1995 the Japanese and Korean governments came together to hold a two-day wrestling festival for peace in Pyongyang, North Korea. The event drew 150,000 and 190,000 fans respectively to Rungrado May Day Stadium. The main event saw the only match between Inoki and Ric Flair with Inoki winning. Days before this event, Inoki and the Korean press went to the grave and birthplace of Rikidōzan and paid tribute to him.

After retirement (1998-present)

Inoki continued to organize the events such as "Ultimate Crush" and "Jungle Fight", showing traditional professional wrestling matches and mixed martial arts bouts on the same card. Some of the major attractions of these events involve the best of New Japan against world renowned fighters in mixed martial arts matches.

Culminating in 2006, Inoki's influence within New Japan declined. In 2005, YUKE's purchased his controlling 51.5% stock in New Japan.

Inoki started a new group in 2007 called Inoki Genome Federation and continues to promote the cards with traditional pro-wrestling and MMA-like matches.

Political career

In 1989, Inoki established the Sports Peace Party (スポーツ平和党). He was elected to the House of Councillors of the National Diet of Japan. He continued to wrestle and promote while serving as a legislator. He served in the Diet until 1995, when he failed to win re-election, after accusations of yakuza involvement and bribery lead to a decline in his popularity. Inoki met with Saddam Hussein for the release of prisoners from Iraq before the Gulf War. As is the traditional gift for a visiting head-of-state, Saddam gave Inoki a pair of golden swords.

Personal life

Inoki was married to actress Baishō Mitsuko from 1971 to 1987. Initially, the wedding was going to be paid by JWA. However, Inoki was fired later in the year and had to cover the cost of the ceremony. Inoki and Baishō, now divorced, have a daughter, Hiroko, who uses her father's surname. Hiroko is married to Simon Inoki, who in 2005 was named president of NJPW.

Inoki appeared in the movie, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, as himself. He had the starring role in the film Acacia directed by Tsuji Jinsei.

During one visit to a school in the 1980s, Inoki was punched by a student, an Inoki fan who wanted to test Inoki's strength. Inoki slapped the student across the face. The student then thanked Inoki for the slap. The incident became very famous as the live clip of the binta (slap in the face) was shown many times on Japanese television. Now various celebrities and non-wrestling fans in Japan ask Inoki to slap them to install courage or even as some sort of strange blessing. The slap is known as the tōkon binta (闘魂ビンタ?), or "fighting spirit slap".


  1. ^ "Antonio Inoki Home Page". TDC Wrestling Club. 
  2. ^ a b Cohen, Eric. "Antonio Inoki vs Muhammad Ali". 
  3. ^ "Inoki vs. Ali Footage". Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  4. ^ Tallent, Aaron. "The Joke That Almost Ended Ali's Career". Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  5. ^ "Kansuiryu Profile". World Kansuiryu Karate Australia. 

External links