The great and legendary wrestler Antonio Inoki passed away this past Saturday in Tokyo, Japan. He passed away at 79 due to systemic transthyretin amyloidosis. Antonio was one of the most popular and Japan’s most recognizable athlete of all time, as well as one of the most respected wrestlers in the world.
The two pro wrestling bouts between Antonio Inoki and Ric Flair in North Korea, which drew 150,000 and 190,000 fans, are regarded as having the largest attendance in the sport’s history. Inoki was a 12-time world champion and is most notably known as the first IWGP and the first Asian to win the WWF Championship.
Antonio Inoki was also known as the pro-wrestler who faced “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest heavy weight boxers of all time and is regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time. Ali was known to be a lifelong wrestling fan and in 1976 he had defended his WBC, WBA and the ring heavyweight championships. He was slated to face the Ken Norton soon but before doing that Ali was interested in doing something else.
Muhammad Ali, a lifelong wrestling fan wanted to fight Pro wrestlers and Inoki being one of the best in the business at that time, was the one Ali chose to fight. The contest was a Mixed Martial Arts match. It was a combination of wrestling and boxing, in what we may term a wrestling boxing bout.
The bout was known as “The War of the Worlds” and took place on June 26th, 1976 at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan, with 14,500 spectators in attendance. Muhammad Ali struck the legendary wrestler with a total of six punches, and during the whole 15 rounds of the fight, Antonio defended himself by remaining on his back and continuously kicking Ali in the lower body. The match concluded in a 3-3 tie. Ali’s lower body was repeatedly kicked by Antonio, resulting in severe injuries to his legs and two blood clots that limited his movement for the rest of his professional career.
The fight was poorly received by the crowd, with the Budokan crowd chanting “Money Back! Money Back!” at the event. Though the fight has received criticism, it played a role in the history of MMA, especially in Japan.
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Why doesn’t WWE recognize Antonio Inoki’s WWF Championship reign?
Antonio Inoki’s Championship reign isn’t recognized by WWE due to some controversy. In November 1979, Antonio Inoki defeated Bob Backlund to win the Championship but the finish to the match was a bit contrived and it didn’t seem right with the way Backlund lost the match.
Backlund was distracted by Tiger Jeet Singh, and that’s when Inoki pinned him to become the first WWF Champion. A week later a rematch was held, which was won by Bob Backlund, but Backlund’s win was also due to interference from Tiger Jeet Singh and the then president of WWF, Hishashi Shinma declared the match as no contest.
Inoki vacated the title on the same night, there have been many rumours as to why Inoki vacated the Championship. One rumour is that Antonio Inoki had refused to lose to Bob Backlund a few weeks after his win and so he decided to vacate it. Another theory states that Antonio himself decided to vacate the title as there was distraction involved in both matches.
The WWE does not recognize Antonio’s reign since it occurred during Bob Backlund’s five-year reign and would not appear impressive to Bob Backlund in the records. It would have lessened Backlund’s stature in the history of WWE.
Though Antonio’s reign as a champion isn’t recognized, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. 14-time World Champion and current creative head of the WWE Triple H paid his tributes to the legendary wrestler.
“One of the most important figures in the history of our business, and a man who embodied the term “fighting spirit”. The legacy of WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki will live on forever.”
Antonio Inoki also had a political career during his ongoing wrestling career and he was elected as a member of House of councillors. He managed to negotiate with Saddam Hussein to secure the release of Japanese captives prior to the Gulf War while serving as a member of the House of councillors.
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