The legendary Antonio Inoki passed away on 1st October 2022, at age 79, leaving behind a legacy not just in Professional Wrestling but also in Mixed Martial Arts and later Politics. It has been announced that Inoki died from systemic transthyretin amyloidosis.
Inoki faced off with Muhammad Ali, formed and promoted his own wrestling promotion, and even went into politics during his 79 years on this earth. Respected by people all around the world he will be greatly missed. A man of intimidating stature with a wicked sense of humor and a mean slap, his fans will always have the many different stories from the people that worked alongside him to enjoy. Many of them are absolutely hilarious and if you have the time do look some of them up.
Here we take a look at the origins of the great Antonio Inoki and how he came to found one of the biggest wrestling companies in the world, New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
The Origins Of Antonio Inoki
The man we know as Antonio Inoki was born Kanji Inoki on 20th February 1943 in Yokohama to a large affluent family. He is the second youngest with five older brothers and four older sisters. When he was just five years old his father, Sajiro who was a businessman and politician, passed away.
While at school Inoki excelled in sports such as basketball due to his height, he would later change to track and field focusing on shot put to help increase his strength. He went on to win a championship while at Yokohama Junior High School. Inoki also began to be trained in karate by one of his older brothers during this time.
Then in 1957 at the age of 14 Inoki along with his grandfather, mother and brothers would emigrate to Brazil. Despite coming from an affluent family after the war had ended in 1945 the Inoki family fell on hard times, especially after the death of Sajiro who was the main breadwinner of the family. Unfortunately during the trip, his grandfather would pass away leaving his mother as the head of the family. While in Brazil Inoki won the regional championship in the shot put, discus, and javelin going on to become the champion in the shot put and discus at the All Brazilian championships.
Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance [1960 – 1971]
At the age of 17, Inoki would meet the legendary Rikidōzan, the founder and owner of Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance [JWA], sparking his motivation to move back to Japan and become his disciple. Inoki joined the JWA dojo and trained under Karl Gotch, a man known for his catch style, he also trained in amateur wrestling under Isao Yoshiwara and in kosen judoka under Kiyotaka Otsubo. The combination of these different techniques would greatly influence his Strong Style technique later in his career.
Kenji would choose the ring name Antonio as a homage to fellow professional wrestler Antonino Rocca. Antonio Inoki [アントニオ猪木] was born and would become one of the most recognizable names in all of Japanese wrestling. His classmate in the dojo would also go on to become one of the most well-known and respected wrestlers in Japan and the founder of All Japan Pro-Wrestling, Giant Baba.
Inoki, after the murder of Rikidozan, would go on an extensive learning excursion to the United States in 1964. He returned two years later finding a new home at Tokyo Pro Wrestling and becoming their biggest star. After the company folded in 1967 his return to JWA would mark success as Inoki had gone out and made a name for himself outside of Japan and the JWA. Teaming with former classmate Giant Baba the two would dominate the tag team division and become four-time NWA International Tag Team Champions. But this success would not last in Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance as the end of 1971 approached.
The King Of Sport: New Japan Pro-Wrestling
At the end of 1971 Antonio Inoki and his tag team partner, Giant Baba, had decided to go their separate ways. While Inoki was fired from the JWA after a hostile takeover failed, Baba chose not to renew his contract and left to form All Japan Pro-Wrestling alongside Rikidozan’s two sons, Mitsuo and Yoshihiro Momota, on 21st October 1972.
While Baba would pioneer the Kings Road Style in All Japan Pro-Wrestling Inoki would form New Japan Pro-Wrestling on 13th January 1972 bringing his strong style ideals to Japan. New Japan’s first show took place on 6th March 1972 in Ota Ward Gymnasium, Tokyo, in front of a crowd of 5,000. His first match, at Opening Series, was against the man who helped train him, Karl Gotch.
Within a year Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance would close its doors for good while AJPW and NJPW continued to grow and thrive, producing some of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots. Both promotions and men’s fortunes would vary over the years but they are both now back together.
Look out this week for more articles from the Lace ‘Em Up team about Inoki and his influence on the industry.