He died at the age of 79 in his home, overwhelmed by various pathologies. He was a multifaceted character: fighter, senator, diplomat and he also converted to Islam. But he is above all was one of the great fathers of the wrestling world

    Beyond the immediate diversity of elegant symbols and the multitude of alphabets, the most fascinating trait of the Japanese language is probably the untranslatability that characterizes many words. Several concepts come together in a meeting point on the semantic, lexical, even philosophical level, so that an automatic and synthetic association is impossible. A description that could portray what Antonio Inoki was: wrestler and senator, diplomat and opponent of Tiger Man, Japanese and Brazilian, Muslim and Buddhist, fighter and messenger of peace, Muhammad Ali and Saddam Hussein, North Korea and the ‘America. Shades of color that come together without blending. He passed away in the past few hours in his home, at the age of 79, overwhelmed by various diseases such as diabetes and amyloidosis that tormented a body already exposed for decades to trauma of all kinds. In addition, spinal problems had forced him into a wheelchair for a year and again in 2021 he had risked his life due to an intestinal torsion.

    Origins of the myth

    Kanji Inoki was born in hell. This is how Yokohama looked in 1943, torn apart by the great Kanto earthquake of twenty years earlier and targeted, without having time to get up, by American bombs during the Second World War. All while the Tokko, the thought police, left no way out for all those who opposed the conflict. The end of hostilities should have allowed him to grow up calmly, but at the age of five his father Sajiro suddenly dies of a heart attack. He moved to Brazil with the rest of his family and shortly before the age of majority, after having distinguished himself in karate, he became interested in wrestling. Admire Rikidozan, considered to all intents and purposes the father of puroresu – the term used to identify the discipline in Japan -, and Antonino Rocca (Biasetton in the registry office), an Italian wrestler from whom he will steal his stage name and who will make his fortune in the USA . Rikidozan will take him under his wing, Inoki soon matures the idea of ​​proposing something different. After a first failed attempt, he founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which is still one of the main federations in the world. He wants him to be recognized with an important status in martial arts knowledge, so he begins to challenge champions of different combat sports, winning most of the fights. Of all, of course, the one against Muhammad Ali stands out.

    War of the worlds

    The idea was born almost by chance. In 1975 Ali met Ichiro Hatta, president of the Japanese Amateur Wrestling Association. He throws him a challenge, more playful than serious: “I give a million dollars to the oriental fighter who will beat me”. The media storm that follows is well beyond expectations, Inoki accepts the challenge and just over a year later, on June 26, 1976, the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo opens its doors to what is called “The War of the Worlds”, considered by many the moment that marked the birth of mixed martial arts. In the various promotional phases, the two provoke each other as usual. Ali’s tones are mocking, he gives him a pelican for the accentuated shape of his chin. Those of the Japanese are much more threatening, he gives him a crutch making him understand that he will be serious. Despite the pressures and recommendations of the entourage, even the intentions of the boxer are these, there is no talk of following a script but there must be special rules. Inoki lies on the ground and hits him 107 times in the legs, Ali manages to land six punches in fifteen rounds: it will end in a draw. He will be forced into hospital treatment for several weeks to avoid the complications of clots and infected wounds caused by the many strokes. An aspect that, on the one hand, enhances the myth of Inoki, on the other creates an indissoluble friendship, strengthened by the fight against discrimination that both have advocated.

    Out of the ring

    There are many more memorable matches, from the victory over Andre The Giant to the defeat (with injury) against Hulk Hogan, from the blows under which The Great Antonio collapsed in a surreal challenge up to the meeting with Ric Flair, in the he most followed wrestling event ever with 190,000 spectators, in Pyongyang in 1995. The retirement will take place three years later, Ali will be present at the ceremony. Between 1989 and 1995 he will become a senator, being elected with the Sports and Peace Party, of which he himself is the founder. It was in this period that during a trip to Iraq he converted to Shiite Islam, then changing his name to Muhammad Hussain Inoki but also defining himself as a Buddhist. After the political interlude, he devoted himself to the diplomatic one. Previously he had already met Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of some prisoners during the Gulf War, more recently he has been committed to improving relations with the two Koreas. In 2013 he was also re-elected with the same position in the National Diet, the Japanese parliament, but with the Restoration Party. In recent years, he seemed ready to run for governor in Tokyo, an idea that never took shape due to poor health. After all Antonio Inoki is human, and he just reminded us of that.

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