Tokyo [Japan], October 1 (ANI): Antonio Inoki, the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and former professional wrestler, has passed away at the age of 79.
"New Japan Pro-Wrestling founder and former professional wrestler Antonio Inoki (real name Kanji Inoki) died in Tokyo on October 1st. Inoki was battling with "systemic transthyretin amyloidosis," which is said to affect one in tens of thousands of people. He is 79 years old," said a statement from NJPW.
Inoki from Yokohoma City, Kanagawa Prefecture, was born on February 20, 1943. He moved to Brazil at the age of 13 with his family and worked in a coffee plantation. He entered the world of Japanese professional wrestling at age of 17 under his real name in Tokyo at Taito Ward Gymnasium. He changed his name to 'Antonio Inoki' in 1962.
After a feud with Japan Pro-Wrestling led to his expulsion, he founded New Japan Pro Wrestling, a highly popular wrestling promotion currently among the sport's hardcore fans. He went on to become the first-ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Against his lifelong rival, All Japan Pro Wrestling of Giant Baba, he promoted extreme wrestling advocating a 'strong style'. He was a part of many matches in the Japanese scene that led to a professional wrestling boom in the country.
Over the years, the NJPW would become one of the most successful wrestling promotions in Asia. Inoki utilised talented wrestlers like Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, innovative high-flyers like Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid and American stars like Bob Backlund and Vader in his promotion. Inoki was a top-level star in NJPW, battling the likes of Stan Hansen, Tiger Jeet Singh and Hulk Hogan in some great matches.
On June 26, 1976, he also was a part of the "Fight of the Century" at Nippon Budokan, a mixed martial arts match against Muhammad Ali, the World Heavyweight Champion of boxing at that time, which attracted a lot of worldwide attention.
In 1995, he wrestled legendary Ric Fair in North Korea which drew one of the largest crowds in the history of the sport. His retirement match on April 4, 1998 at Tokyo Dome, attracted more than 70,000 fans.
In 2010, he was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Hall of Fame. WWE recognises him as one of Japan's most prominent figures in professional wrestling. (ANI)