Wrestler-Turned-Politician Who Fought Muhammad Ali Dead at 79

Takeo Tanuma
Takeo Tanuma

Antonio Inoki, the Japanese wrestling star who once faced off against world boxing champion Muhammad Ali, has died aged 79.

His company confirmed his death, saying “New Japan Pro-Wrestling is deeply saddened at the passing of our founder, Antonio Inoki. His achievements, both in professional wrestling and the global community are without parallel and will never be forgotten.”

After Inoki’s wrestling debut in 1960 he became one of the most well-known wrestlers, even fighting Ali in a rare exhibition match between a wrestler and a boxer in a contest that, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) said in a statement, “paved the way for the advent of Mixed Martial Arts, which would explode in popularity decades later.”

Inoki later entered politics and was elected to Japan’s national assembly in both 1989 and 2013, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported Saturday.

The broadcaster said that Inoki died of heart failure after battling heart disease for several years.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Japanese parliamentarian and mixed martial artist Antonio Inoki, who fought boxing legend Muhammad Ali during a celebrated exhibition match in 1976, speaks at a press conference in 2016.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Kazuhiro Nogi</div>

Japanese parliamentarian and mixed martial artist Antonio Inoki, who fought boxing legend Muhammad Ali during a celebrated exhibition match in 1976, speaks at a press conference in 2016.

Kazuhiro Nogi

WWE inducted Inoki into its hall of fame in 2010. In a statement the organization said the wrestler was beloved across the world.

“Inoki was among the most respected men in sports-entertainment and a bona fide legend in his homeland. WWE offers its heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and fans of the squared circle legend and the wrestling world as a whole,” a statement said.

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