Japanese Wrestler and Politician Antonio Inoki Dies at the Age of 79

Antonio Inoki, a former pro wrestler from Japan has died at the age of 79, according to his organization. Inoki was one of Japan’s best-known wrestlers. In 1976, he famously fought Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match.

The New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), which was started by Inoki in 1972 to promote Japanese wrestling, tweeted on Saturday that it was “deeply saddened” by Inoki’s death.

“His achievements, both in professional wrestling and the global community, are without parallel and will never be forgotten,” the tweet added, saying the organization’s thoughts “are with Inoki’s family, friends and fans.”

Born Kanji Inoki on February 20, 1943 in Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, he moved to Brazil with his family when he was 13 years old, according to a statement from the NJPW. In Brazil, he met his mentor, pro-wrestling star Rikidozan, who scouted him.

After making his debut in 1960, Inoki became one of the most famous wrestlers in the world. He went on to fight Ali in a rare match between a wrestler and a boxer. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) said in a statement that this match “paved the way for the advent of Mixed Martial Arts, which would explode in popularity decades later.”

In 2010, WWE put Inoki in its hall of fame. Inoki was the first athlete in his sport to go into politics. He was elected to the upper house of the Diet, which is Japan’s national assembly, in 1989 and again in 2013. On Saturday, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said that Inoki was re-elected to the Diet in 2013.

He also worked for peace through sports and went to North Korea several times as a lawmaker to improve relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo, according to NHK.

In 2014, he set up a wrestling match in Pyongyang that featured American pro wrestlers. Relations between Japan and North Korea were warming up because of the issue of Japanese citizens being taken away in the 1970s and 1980s.

Before he died, Inoki was fighting a rare disease called amyloidosis which affects the organs.

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