"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 Nineties
, 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 promotor 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 charisma.
- A God I Am: The Makai Club members worshipped Inoki like a god, and according to some, several 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", 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.
- 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.
- Author Appeal: Inoki openly favors wrestlers with legit backgrounds, or more clearly, mere workers who agree in doing MMA for him, which led to questionable or downright wrong booking decisions and 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 JÚr˘me 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" Filipˇvic, 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.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Inoki's real fighting skills might have been disputed (martial arts expert Donn Draeger opined before the Ali match that Inoki was a fake), but reality is that he was trained by Karl Gotch and definitely knows how to grapple. According to Dave Meltzer, Inoki once sparred with former UFC Heavyweight champion Dan Severn and completely schooled him on the mat. Considering Inoki personally trained Kazuyuki Fujita and Lyoto Machida, this is not strange.
- Badass: One of the biggest 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 (besides in 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.
- 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.
- Big Entrance: At Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2003, Inoki parachuted his way to the ring. No, really.
- Bullying a Dragon: According to Bruno Sammartino, he once had to beat up a young Inoki for trying to shoot on him.
- Canon Discontinuity: His WWWF World Heavyweight Championship reign after defeating Bob Backlund.
- 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.
- Face: Like a national hero to Japan.
- Finishing Move: Enzuigiri, Manji-Gatame (Octopus hold), Cobra Twist (Abdominal strecht) and Masho no Sleeper (Rear naked choke). He innovated the first two.
- Follow the Leader: Inoki was instantly smitten with the MMA wave and forced New Japan to dive into it, which had ambivalent results.
- 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 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.
- 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 would have been devastating in MMA by using the old vale tudo chin-in-the-eye submission.
- Surprisingly to those who followed his career, Inoki was embarrassed by his 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.
- How Much More Can He Take: His "Island Death Match" with Masa Saito went for an hour and twenty five minutes.
- Mundane Made Awesome: His famous "Fighting Spirit Slap" is the best example. During one visit to a school, Inoki was punched twice by a 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Take a Third Option: He took up Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Hussain Inoki while remaining a Buddhist.
- 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 fighting 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.