Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki dies aged 79: media

Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki dies aged 79: media


Flamboyant Japanese professional wrestler-turned-politician Antonio Inoki died on Saturday at the age of 79, local media reported.

Public broadcaster NHK said he died of heart failure.

At 1.9 meters tall, Inoki pioneered mixed martial arts in Japan and rose to fame in 1976 when he took on world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in a crazy wrestler-vs-boxer match in Tokyo.

In 1989 he was elected Member of the House of Lords for the now defunct Sport and Peace Party.

He traveled to Iraq before the 1990 Gulf War to secure the release of Japanese hostages.

Inoki lost his seat in 1995 and retired from wrestling in 1998, but was re-elected to the House of Lords in 2013 as a member of another opposition party.

Having developed a strong personal connection with North Korea over the years, Inoki traveled there dozens of times to help solve the problem of Pyongyang’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens during the Cold War before retiring from politics in 2019.

The wrestler – whose birth name was Kanji Inoki – said he wanted to “contribute to world peace through sport” and has organized martial arts and wrestling festivals in North Korea, often meeting high-ranking officials during his visits.

Japanese officials dismissed the trips as a sideshow.

When asked about it at the time, then-Chairman Yoshihide Suga reminded journalists that Tokyo had a travel ban on North Korea and urged the politician to “act appropriately.”

However, Japanese television news reported extensively on Inoki’s trip, and the visits continued to generate interest given the lack of details leaking out about life in North Korea.

Inoki, recognizable by his oversized chin and trademark tie and red scarf — even in the summer — also forced the government to take an official stance on extraterrestrials when he tabled a question in a budget committee in 2017 and said he had a mysterious one Flight seen object disappearing on the horizon.

In 2020, Inoki said he was diagnosed with heart disease.

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