Antonio Inoki Too Incredible to be Fiction
Discusses the prowrestler Antonio Inoki.
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Let me set the scene for a martial arts story…
A poverty stricken refugee from Japan who travelled to brazil, became a professional wrestler, returned to Japan to become a millionaire, hospitalized Mohammed Ali, founded his own style of karate, negotiated the return of hostages from Iraq by going to Iraq in person at the dawn of the gulf war, set up a genome project and became a muslim all whilst being 6 foot 4 and Japanese and worshiped like a god by the Japanese public with his own brand of crisps, sweets and toys.
The next twist to the story is even more incredible….
All of the above is true, well documented and video recorded.
The name of the incredible human being in question is Antonio Inoki. Inoki was born Kanji Inoki in 1948 in Saitama, Japan. His father Sajiro died tragically when he was five and his once wealthy family sank into poverty.
They emigrated to Brazil where the young Inoki would really begin his training.
In about 1960 he would take the Ring name Antonio Inoki, it was given to him by his master Toyonobori and was homage to the wrestler Antonio Rocca. Changing one’s name for professional purposes is very common in Japan. He travelled back to Japan to train with the JWA or Japan Wrestling Association.
Inoki would go to Japan for the first time in 1964. He would marry Mitsuko Baisho in 1971. She is a famous actress who has been in films by Akira Kurosawa.
In 1972 he would found New Japan Wrestling where he worked with legendary Wrestler Karl Gotch. He would wrestle Billy Robinson in a legendary match in 1975, but the year afterwards would be the start of something very special for Antonio Inoki.
Inoki would do professional wrestling matches against athletes from various combat sports and his first such match would be against Willem Ruska a judo Olympic gold medallist which Inoki won.
The next match would be one of the most bizarre events in sporting history. Inoki would fight the boxer Mohammed Ali in a fight with rules which severely limited both fighters.
Ali was in Tokyo and characteristically asked whether there was an oriental fighter who would fight him. This was headline news in Japan and Inoki accepted it and his backers were behind him with $6 million which was a massive amount of money in those days.
Before the fight Ali called Inoki a pelican because of his chin and Inoki stated of his harsh childhood “In those days it was like living as a slave, now it is good to think I worked on the plantation in 45 degree heat. I struggled to eat, but such a life gave me the spirit to fight.”
According to the Japanese sources The Ali camp changed the rules so that Inoki could not wrestle and could only kick. Inoki kicked Ali’s legs throughout the fight and incredibly Ali was hospitalized with blood clots after the fight though it was ruled a draw.
According to the boxing promoter Bob Arum: “So fine, OK. It was terrible, it was embarrassing. But Ali is bleeding from the legs. He gets an infection in his legs; almost has to have an amputation. Not only the [Ken] Norton fight would’ve been not happening, but Ali could’ve been a cripple for the rest of his life.”
Ali was destroyed after the fight but Inoki would go on to become a hero in his native Japan. Inoki would go on to have any bouts throughout the seventies though none would be as famous as his fight with Mohammed Ali.
My personal favourite was in 1984 where he fought the American Professional Wrestler Hulk Hogan. Although it is choreographed the Inoki chants are massive and it is clear that the Japanese worship Inoki like a god – because of his fight with Ali. If you think I am joking go and watch the match!
In 1986 he would defeat the boxer Leon Spinks in a very boring professional wrestling match — however this was just the start for the incredible story of Antonio Inoki.
In one of the most incredible events in pro wrestling Inoki asked for the Japanese government for funding to go to Iraq to hold a pro wrestling match and was refused. The Japanese government was trying to negotiate the return of hostages but it was going too slow and Inoki wanted to speed up the process with a wrestling tournament.
Inoki decided to hold a pro wrestling event in Baghdad in order to release the hostages.
The Japanese government wouldn’t help so Inoki funded the event out of his own pocket and pretty much single-handedly held traditional karate tournaments, Japanese music events, traditional Japanese arts as well as pro wrestling matches. Inoki and a diplomatic team flew to Iraq with a Turkish Airways plane that Inoki himself chartered! The pro wrestling match took place on the second day The main events:
Bad News Allan pinned Masanabu Kurisu.
Jushin Liger beat Kantaro Hoshino via count out.
The Cuban Assassin pinned Black Cat.
Riki Choshu & Masa Saito beat Hiro Hase & Kensuke Sasaki.
Incredibly, the Iraqi government freed all of the 36 hostages without any hassle. The event’s Japanese name was supotsu to heiwa no saiten which translates into English as festival of sports and peace. This event was covered by the Japanese media and can be viewed on YouTube by typing in Antonio Inoki and Iraq. Even if you don’t speak Japanese the events the videos portray are frankly astounding and well worth watching.
Although nowhere near as astounding as singlehandedly organising a Pro-wrestling tournament and Japanese culture event to free Japanese hostages to one of history’s most famous dictators Inoki would go on diplomatic missions to Cuba as well as Cambodia, Ethiopia and Mozambique(!)
One of the bizarre things that happened is that Inoki would buy himself from Fidel Castro an island in Cuba which would be called the friendship island. This is related in the book “Ring of Hell”.
Although not as spectacular as the Iraq coup Inoki would hold a pro wrestling event in the North Korean capital Pyong-pyang. This was incredible as North Korea was and is one of the most dangerous states on the face of the planet and its leaders both hated Japan.
In the match itself Inoki would defeat legendary wrestler Ric Flair in front of a frankly incredible 380,000 people. North Korea would publish a stamp to commemorate Inoki
Astoundingly, Inoki would become one of the main sources of information on the notoriously guarded regime(!) According to the Japan times he correctly predicted when the North Koreans would hold their next conference.
The reason for this awesome feat requires some knowledge of oriental culture to understand. One of Inoki’s teachers was a Korean born man called Rikidozan who is legendary as the founder of pro wrestling in North Korea. Because Inoki was his disciple and very successful the North Koreans greatly respected Inoki even though he was Japanese. This is an incredible example of Martial Arts bridging a gap between belligerent nations.
Although this is perhaps as not as news worthy as the Iraq incident because the West has never been at war with North Korea it is still incredible.
Inoki competed in over 2000 wrestling matches which is astounding – the undertaker has had less bouts and has had much better nutritional advantages than Inoki as nutrition is so much better today than it was when Inoki was wrestling.
Inoki and Bio-technology
There is very little information available on this in English so I have used Japanese sources. In 1980 decided to set up a bio-technology in Brazil called Anton Haiseru which involved the Brazilian government. This business aimed at creating a new fuel by using sugar cane crops and Antonio Inoki had some very good ideas for the biotechnology involved in this. Incredibly he came up with a plan for solving the problem of world hunger by using the sugar cane enzymes to make food for animals and then using the animal waste to make more food for humans! This scheme was not a success but it is incredible that a professional athlete should know anything about the science involved in this scheme.
Inoki founded his own brand of Karate “kansui ryu”. |There was a brutal karateka called Yukio Mizutani who arranged a fight with Inoki. The fight never happened and the two became good friends and founded their own style of karate. The “kan” comes from KANji Inoki (Inoki’s real name) and the “sui” is a derivation of the “mizu” in Mizutani. Ryu is Japanese for school.
Machida sounds like something from streetfighter… Half Japanese half Brazilian and raised in the jungle to fight in Karate. He was trained by Inoki and was known as the Inoki robot! He has thought in MMA around the world.
Machida started training in Karate and Brazilian Jujitsu at a young age. Inoki scouted him and sent him to the New Japan dojo in the USA. His first MMA fight was on one of Inoki’s shows, Ultimate Crush in Tokyo. Inoki was watching at ringside and congratulated the young man but surprisingly for the western audience, slapped Machida and punched him!
The Inoki Slap
There is a video on YouTube called “Inoki slaps everybody”. The world’s best MMA fighters walk to the ring and Inoki Slaps them in turn. He slaps everyone from gigantic arm wrestler Gary Goodridge to tiny women.
Ordinary office workers present Inoki and ask to be slapped. This ritual goes back to when a black belt student punched full pelt Inoki at a seminar and Inoki took the punches and slapped the student. The student said “thank you” and the rest is history. The Japanese term for the slap is Toukon Binta.
Inoki resides in New York today but is still worshiped in Japan. Everyone from the Prime Minister to Zen monks to theatre directors to school children knows his name. His image is ever present in Tokyo but he remains fairly unknown in the western martial arts world which I think is unfair as he is an incredible figure in Pro wrestling and the martial arts.
He now runs the Genome Federation which is a pro wrestling organisation. As well as selling massive amounts of tickets Inoki is still a diplomat and his Genome Federation sent a present to the North Korean state on 2011.