Antonio Inoki Death – Heart Failure

1943-2022 (age 79)

antonio inoki dead

New Japan Pro Wrestling legend, Antonio Inoki dies at age 79

Antonio Inoki, a rare case of a wrestler who transcended the squared circle and influenced the world around him, as a wrestler, a politician, and a humanitarian.

Best-known for founding New Japan Pro Wrestling; Antonio Inoki’s accomplishments outside the ring were equally impressive.

When a wrestler dies, the words legend and giant can be used to describe their place in the industry.

However, Antonio Inoki was more than a legend and more than a giant. Inoki was a god who walked the earth, leaving a path already etched in the annals of history.

Teenage World Traveler

Kanji Inoki was born in Yokohama, Japan on February 20, 1943. Inoki traveled to Brazil with his family, becoming a successful amateur athlete.

He transitioned into pro wrestling, working in his adopted homeland. There, he was scouted by wrestler Rikidozan, who saw something in the young star.

Breaking into Professional Wrestling

Antonio got his start after training with wrestling star Rikidozan. Rikidozan’s Korean ancestry influenced Inoki and led to Inoki’s later efforts to thaw relations between Japan and North Korea.

Inoki joined Rikidozan in Japan, working in Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance and Tokyo Pro Wrestling. His wrestling journey took him to the United States where he worked in various regional promotions.

antonio inoki vader

Antonio Inoki battles Big Van Vader (Wrestling World, 1996)

Founding New Japan Pro Wrestling

By the early 1970s, Inoki was looking to control his own wrestling promotion.  When JWA officials learned he was planning a takeover, they fired him.

Undaunted, Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling, which eventually became Japan’s top promotion. It remains one of the most renowned wrestling federations in the world.

Inoki brought in some of the world’s greatest wrestlers to New Japan. His roster combined Japanese stars with the crème de la crème from outside the country.

Competition between New Japan and rival All Japan Pro Wrestling was fierce at times, with promoters vying to steal top talent from each other.

Battling and Teaming with the Best

During his time as a wrestler in New Japan, Inoki battled the world’s best, including American wrestlers Bob Backlund, Bruiser Brody, Steve Williams, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan (to name a few).

Inoki seemingly won the WWWF Championship from Bob Backlund in 1979 but the title was upheld, and the switch was never acknowledged.

He also competed in tag team bouts (including six-man matches), often teaming with Riki Chosu, Kengo Kimura, and Tatsumi Fujinami.

A Decorated Champion

Nonetheless, the Japanese great held many other titles, including the WWWF World Martial Arts Championship, a variety of regional titles from various National Wrestling Alliance territories, and of course, many belts in New Japan including its coveted IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

Inoki continued wrestling until his official retirement in 1998. A shrewd promoter, Inoki booked a four-year program for his retirement.

antonio inoki muhammud ali

A precursor to MMA, Inoki stepped into the ring with Muhammad Ali on June 26, 1976 at Tokyo’s Budokan. The match was billed as “The War of the Worlds” and was watched worldwide by an estimated 1.4 billion viewers.

Honored Throughout the Wrestling World

Antonio Inoki’s contributions to wrestling in the ring and as a promoter earned him accolades throughout the wrestling world.

Inoki was inducted into many wrestling halls of fame during his career.

Inoki was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, the International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the WWE Hall of Fame.

The Death of Antonio Inoki

Antonio Inoki died on October 1, 2022, in Tokyo, Japan after dealing with health issues for several years.

The wrestler turned politician suffered from systemic amyloidosis, “a rare ailment involving a buildup of a protein called amyloid in the organs.”

At the time of the writing of this article, it was believed that Inoki’s systemic amyloidosis led to heart failure.

The Wrestling Observer/Figure Four Online reports that Inoki had been confined to a wheelchair for some time. He was 79 years old.

The Wrestling World Pays Its Respects

The death of Antonio Inoki led to an outpouring of social media messages from organizations and wrestlers paying their respects. Here are a few of the tweets sent out:

What are your favorite memories of Antonio Inoki? Let us know in the comments below.

Other pro wrestlers who died in 2022 include  Dave Hebner, “Judo” Gene LeBell, Scott Hall, and Tim White.