Name: Antonio Inoki
Year Inducted: 2009
Induction Category: International

Antonio Inoki

Antonio Inoki (Kanji Inoki) was born on February 20, 1943 in Yokohama, Japan. When he was fourteen years old, his grandfather, mother and all of his brothers went to Sao Paolo, Brazil and became immigrants from Japan. He worked on coffee plantations from 5:00 A.M. to midnight every day for three years.

In April of 1960, Rikidozan visited Brazil to wrestle and, through scouting, found Inoki, who accepted Rikidozan's offer to return to Japan. He was seventeen years old at that time.Inoki's first match was on September 30, 1960 with Kintaro Oki of Korea. Inoki lost but everybody saw significant potential in him. Baba had his debut match on the same day when he beat Yonetaro Tanaka.

Inoki went to the United States in March of 1964 for the first time. He went to Hawaii, Los Angeles, Kansas, Oregon, Texas, and Tennessee, He was billed as Kanji Inoki or Tokyo Tom then.(another Tokyo Tom in Texas was Ray Urbano).Inoki's reputation grew when he wrestled Killer Karl Kox and Fritz Von Erich in the Dallas area in 1965. Inoki teamed with Duke Keomuka.

Inoki returned from Tennessee to Japan in March 1966 and he formed Tokyo Pro-Wrestling with Toyonobori, which was an outlaw promotion of Japan Wrestling Association, a member of the National Wrestling Association. Therefore, he had a tough time obtaining American wrestlers. In April of 1967, Inoki returned to JWA, but again, he had a clash with JWA executives in December 1971, so he quit again.

Inoki formed New Japan Pro-Wrestling in March 1972. Again he had tough time successfully inviting the American boys. He did, however, have great matches with Karl Gotch, Lou Thesz, who were both considered rather outlaw or freelance agents at that time. New Japan then became the number one group in Japan. Inoki had a business relationship with the National Wrestling Federation through Johnny Powers. On December 10, 1973, Inoki beat Powers to become NWF world heavyweight champion. After Inoki finished his business relationship with NWF, Inoki became International Wrestling Grand Prix champ.

His NWF championship days extended from 1973 to 1981 and are considered his prime as a wrestler. His top three greatest matches are considered to be against Strong Kobayashi, Kintaro Oki, and Billy Robinson. In 1976, Inoki offered a mixed match to Muhammad Ali. The bout ended up being a fifteen round draw and newspapers criticized Inoki a considerable amount. He continued to battle with Chuck Wepner, The Monsterman, Willie Williams, Karl Mildenberger and then established a Mixed Martial Arts business. Today, many believe that the Ultimate Fighting Championship boom originated with the Inoki vs Ali match.

He had his final match April 4, 1998 at the Tokyo Dome and drew seventy-thousand fans. Today, Inoki is doing consultant business with Oil Sand and Bio-Energy .His wrestling group, IGF (Inoki Genome Federation) is doing bi-monthly shows in Japan. Inoki's name is so famous in Japan that he maintains "national hero" status still.

- Koji Miyamoto

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