Wrestling / Antonio Inoki
"When your fist connects with my chin, take care that your fist is not damaged."
(b. in 1943 as Kanji Inoki
) is a Japanese Professional Wrestler
and Mixed Martial Arts
promoter, considered the most iconic figure in puroresu and the first MMA pioneer. Inoki debuted for Rikidozan
's Japan Wrestling Association and became a big star along Giant Baba, until he was fired when planning a takeover. He then founded New Japan Pro Wrestling
, which went to be the biggest wrestling promotion thanks to his charisma and star. Trained by Karl Gotch
in the ways of the catch wrestling, Inoki created the Strong-Style, the martial arts-oriented realistic wrestling style which distinguished his company for years, and staged a series of "Different Style Fights" against martial artists to prove its superiority. While most of them were worked, Inoki fought a real one against Muhammad Ali
which ended with Ali's legs destroyed. After the MMA boom in The '90s
, Inoki became even more interested in real fighting and turned NJPW into his personal test field, which made the company suffer and ultimately got Inoki out of it. He went to form Inoki Genome Federation, where he kept his philosophy of mixing MMA and puroresu. Currently, Inoki remains as the top MMA promoter in Japan and one of its greatest legends.
As usual, you can find the basics at The Other Wiki
- The Ace
- Absolutely. He embodied the qualities who were passed to his three main trainees: Satoru Sayama's inventiveness, Akira Maeda's drive and Nobuhiko Takada's sense of style.
- He was the top wrestler of Tokyo Pro Wrestling but went back to the JWA when internal politics destroyed the promotion.
- A God I Am: The Makai Club members worshipped Inoki like a god in storyline, and according to rumors, several members of his entourage do it in real life. Unsurprisingly, Inoki's experiment to join puroresu and MMA in his own way was called "Inoki-ism", just like a religion, and he still calls that way the wrestling style of Inoki Genome Federation.
- Alternate Company Equivalent: To All Japan Pro Wrestling's Giant Baba, almost to Evil Counterpart levels.
- Always Someone Better: As good as Inoki could be in shoots, it's said that he got the shorter end of a rough match against Roland Bock in Germany in 1978. Supposedly Bock decided it was a good time to going cement on the Japanese guy, and he did it thoroughly by manhandling him with stiff suplexes and headbutts. Inoki didn't try to fight back, as he had been seriously advised by Karl Gotch that Bock was too dangerous for him and that he had to play along with the beatdown in order to avoid getting him angry for real.
- The Apprentice: To Karl Gotch.
- Arch-Enemy: Johnny Powers, among others.
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Was the kind of wrestler who was strong and knew it, but Japanese crowds loved it thanks to his poise and aura.
- As Himself: In The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.
- Author Appeal: Inoki openly favors wrestlers with legit backgrounds, or more clearly, mere workers who agree in doing MMA for him, which has led to questionable (or downright wrong) booking decisions, and has often damaged their pro wrestling careers.
- Tadao Yasuda, a former sumo wrestler of inconsistent popularity and even less puroresu skills, won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship just because he choked K-1 figure Jérôme Le Banner at an Inoki MMA show. And just because bigger name Yuji Nagata, who fought at the same event, lost his bout (before Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipóvic, nothing less).
- Kazuyuki Fujita was just a bland NJPW low-carder when Inoki sent him to PRIDE, but after destroying Hans Nijman in the first round, he turned the Inoki Dojo poster boy and received all kinds of privileges. His staggering performances in PRIDE gave him three reigns as the NJPW heavyweight champion and a dominance booking who stopped several wrestlers' careers.
- Unlike them, Yoshihiro Takayama's efforts in MMA were unfortunate, but his fighting spirit was enough to Inoki to introduce a "real fighting" title to reward him with, the NWF Heavyweight Championship. This obviously damaged the credibility of the NJPW's native Heavyweight Championship.
- An interesting example is Shinsuke Nakamura, probably the only star who survived the Inoki-ism and stayed with New Japan after Antonio's departure. He had the fighting ability to back up his wrestling charisma, which was even easier with Inoki feeding him relatively easy opponents, but injuries from his MMA fights endangered him for a long time.
- The biggest one is Naoya Ogawa, who was initially brought by Inoki to replace Ken Shamrock and ended becoming a phenom himself. Even before he proved his dominance in MMA, Ogawa was booked to crush established star Shinya Hashimoto for good and caused the split between Inoki and Shinya. The funny part is that Ogawa left Inoki and joined Hashimoto in his new company.
- In return, Inoki signed many MMA fighters with little wrestling skill to work matches and forced the native roster to adopt MMA-style finishers and matches to fit with the general sense of real fighting. This ended not being nice for New Japan.
- Author Avatar: New Japan, Inoki Sports USA, Inoki Genome Federation, should NWA Pro's Inoki Dojo do a show...
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Inoki's real fighting skills might have been historically dispute (when asked for a prediction about the Inoki Ali match, martial arts expert Donn F. Draeger opined that Inoki was a phony and that he would lose), but he actually trained under Karl Gotch and definitely knows how to grapple. According to Dave Meltzer, Inoki once rolled with former UFC Heavyweight champion Dan Severn and completely schooled him on the mat, and a rumor has Inoki teaching a thing or two to NCAA champion Brock Lesnar. Considering Inoki personally trained Kazuyuki Fujita and Lyoto Machida, this is not as crazy as it sounds.
- Bad Boss: Inoki can lead it Up to Eleven. In 2004, he ordered Kazuyuki Fujita to shoot on Shinsuke Nakamura during a wrestling match, getting Nakamura badly hurt on his face from a kick, and apparently unsatisfied with the beatdown, Inoki himself came to the ring and punched him even more in the face. The reason behind the entire act? He though Nakamura wasn't showing enough fighting spirit. Another version says he ordered it because Nakamura strongly protested at the fact the match was changed at the last minute, but even so, it does not speak well of Inoki.
- Batman Gambit: After New Japan stripped Brock Lesnar of the IWGP Heavyweight Title for under performing and being uncooperative, Inoki said they had made a mistake and created a second IWGP Heavyweight Title in his Genome Federation to so Lesnar could still be recognized as champion. Then Lesnar dropped the belt to Kurt Angle, whom after only two defenses, sent the title to New Japan for good.
- Big Entrance: At Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003, Inoki parachuted his way to the ring. No, really.
- Bullying a Dragon:
- The Great Antonio, a strongman and wrestler who was supposedly insane for legit, stopped cooperating with Inoki during their match and started potatoing him in the back of the head. Inoki, not precisely amused, took him down and stomped on his head until knock him out.
- Conversely, according to Bruno Sammartino, a young Inoki once tried to shoot on him, and he had to power out of his hold and throw him off the ring. The story has no other sources and many people have disputed it as being fantastic, sometimes citing Sammartino's loyalty to Giant Baba, but you never know.
- But Your Wings Are Beautiful: Surprisingly to those who followed his career, Inoki was actually embarrassed by his huge chin as a child, and when he got the full age he went to a plastic surgeon to have it changed. However, the surgeon convinced him to leave it unchanged and instead encouraged him to use it as his persona trademark in wrestling.
- Canon Discontinuity: His WWWF World Heavyweight Championship reign after defeating Bob Backlund.
- Captain Ersatz: As to be expected, the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling has had his share of them in Fire Pro Wrestling. Before that, Fighter Hayabusa in Pro Wrestling.
- The Chessmaster
- Is known for being a cunning, even ruthless promotor who often relies in underhand business tactics. It's believed he concocted the disastrous 1.4 Incident, ordering Naoya Ogawa to shoot on Shinya Hashimoto to increase his MMA popularity.
- In recent times, he apparently enjoys giving an almost Bond villain image - he even owns a private island in Cuba handed by Fidel Castro himself (the story behind it is pretty incredible).
- Create Your Own Villain: Inoki plucked Tiger Jeet Singh from relative obscurity outside the Toronto area and made him an international star.
- Defeat Means Friendship: With Muhammad Ali.
- The Dreaded/Living Legend: One of the biggest badasses in the world. Period.
- He's responsible for "The joke that almost ended Muhammad Ali's career", which did not earn him any popularity points outside of Japan but was not going to see many people trying to get retaliation for it either.
- A month before The Gulf War, Inoki organized a sports "peace festival" in Iraq to convince Saddam Hussein to free 41 Japanese hostages. He succeeded.
- Face: Like a national hero to Japan.
- Finishing Move: Enzuigiri, Manji-Gatame (octopus hold), Cobra Twist (abdominal stretch) and Masho no Sleeper (rear naked choke). He innovated the first one.
- Foreign Wrestling Heel: In the WWWF.
- Homage: His artistic name, Antonio, is a nod to Antonino Rocca.
- I Know Karate: And sumo, and catch wrestling too. Aside, he is the founder of the Kansui-Ryu Karate school along with Yukio Mizutani.
- Invincible Hero: Booked himself as this, with mixed results. For example, while Giant Baba was content to stall out Willie Williams (a man known for fighting a bear) in a plausible manner and end their match in a draw, Inoki simply beat Williams, multiple times. Baba's match was regarded as one of the best of the year, Inoki's tend to be overlooked except by fans specifically looking for Williams or Inoki matches.
- Kick Dude: His kicks were hard, and Muhammad Ali can testify it.
- How Much More Can He Take: His "Island Death Match" with Masa Saito went for an hour and twenty five minutes.
- Lantern Jaw of Justice: Inoki's prominent jawbone is well known, reaching memetic levels in Japan and abroad. You can't help but think that Inoki could have built a MMA career around the old vale tudo chin-in-the-eye submission.
- Leitmotif: "Pacific Zone" in WCW
- Loophole Abuse: Inoki vacated the WWF Title after he felt his defense against former champion Bob Backlund was ruined by Tiger Jet Singh. The WWF "interpreted" this as Inoki disregarding his entire title reign and never gave him another shot at the belt.
- Mundane Made Awesome: His famous "Fighting Spirit Slap" is the best example. During one visit to a school, Inoki was punched twice by an insolent student, so he slapped the boy across the face, knocking him down. The student then rose, bowed deeply, and thanked Inoki for the slap. Nowadays various celebrities and even common people in Japan ask Inoki to slap them to infuse them with his badassery.
- Odd Friendship: It's said he was friends with Carlson Gracie. Truth or not, it is confirmed that he was also pals with Carlson's student Wallid Ismail, which is odd enough by itself.
- Real Song Theme Tune: "Honoo no Fighter", from the 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest.
- Power Stable
- Founded an officially unnamed faction (often nicknamed "Inoki Army", "Anti-New Japan" or "Inoki Dojo") composed by shooters and MMA fighters to stir New Japan, which later led to the Makai Club. Unfortunately for the promotion, the stable ended becoming a Creator's Pet and it made more damage than good.
- Inoki's group also had his hand in MMA, and it gave birth to Lyoto Machida and the Jungle Fight promotion.
- Primal Stance: One of Inoki's main characteristics was his weirdly lanky, hunchbacked body language.
- Red Baron: "Moeru Toukon" ("Burning Fighting Spirit").
- Scarf of Asskicking: One of his trademarks is a red scarf worn over his attire.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: After starting his own promotion, New Japan Pro Wrestling. He even created Inoki Genome Federation just to keep doing it.
- The Star Scream: After Rikidozan's death, Inoki was eventually fired by Japan Wrestling Association for his attempts to take it over.
- Start My Own: New Japan Pro Wrestling, Universal Fighting-Arts Organization, Jungle Fight (with Wallid Ismail) and Inoki Genome Federation.
- Strong as They Need to Be: In 1985, he bodyslammed King Kong Bundy.
- Tag Team: B-I Cannon with Giant Baba, another disciple of Rikidozan, in the JWA.
- Take a Third Option: He took up Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Hussain Inoki while remaining a Buddhist. (Yeah, they both can be compatibilized, a sort of - see Useful Notes/Buddhism for more info.)
- Ur-Example: Founded the Strong Style of pro wrestling and Kansui-ryu, his own brand of karate.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Inoki and Yoshiaki Fujiwara had been opponents just as much as tag team partners.
- Warrior Poet: Writes poems during his free time.
- Worked Shoot: Loves them, when not regular shoots. His "Ishu Kakutōgi Sen" or "Different Style Fights" were a proof of it - he started to bring martial artists and combat sports champions to work matches against them and put himself over. Olympic gold medalists in judo like Shota Chochoshivili and Willem Ruska and karate champions like Willie Williams and Gerard Gordeau were his habitual opponents, and Muhammad Ali was meant to be another.