Antonio Inoki is one of the most famous figures in the history of MMA and has gained an almost mythical status in the sport, but he has unfortunately now passed away at the age of 79. Inoki got involved in martial arts early on his life by taking up Karate in 6th grade, but he decided to use his athletic talents elsewhere in his youth and excelled in track-and-field events like the shotput, discuss and javelin throw instead. As a 17 year-old he began training in wrestling under one of the most talented grapplers on the planet at the time, Karl Gotch, and learned a great deal from a stream of amateur wrestlers and veteran Judoka.
After years as a professional wrestler in Japan, Inoki became famous for participating in mixed-rules fights against athletes from other martial arts disciplines like Karate, Kung Fu, Boxing, Judo, and Sumo. Although several of these matches were scripted, many of them were also legitimate fights between elite competitors and Inoki frequently emerged victorious. Carlson Gracie was one of his business colleagues and he once famously described Inoki as ‘one of the best fighters he’d ever seen’.
Of course, Inoki’s most famous moment came when he was booked to fight one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport, Muhammad Ali. Fellow grappling legend ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell would referee the fight, as one of the few men on the planet who had experience in contest of a similar nature. The rules of the fight were changed just a matter of days before it took place, severely limiting what Inoki would be able to do and heavily favouring Ali. Despite this, Inoki went all fifteen rounds with Ali and fought him to a draw in one of the most important and biggest precursors to modern MMA.
After retirement from legitimate competition, Inoki focused on scripted wrestling matches. During that time he got involved in Japanese politics and spent two different six-year periods elected as a member of the Japanese House of Councillors. Not just that but he also founded the Inoki Genome Federation, a promotion that organized both scripted and legitimate fights, while also hosting the Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye, an annual combat sports event that took place on New Year’s Eve and was one of the biggest moments in the Japanese MMA calendar for several years.
Now on September 30th, 2022, Antonio Inoki has passed away as a result of Systemic Transthyretin Amyloidosis at the age of 79. The news has hit the entire combat sports world hard, with sentiments pouring in from several members of the professional wrestling, amateur wrestling, grappling, and MMA communities. Even the WWE themselves made an announcement about the news in a post to their official Instagram account: