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Wrestling / Antonio Inoki

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"When your fist connects with my chin, take care that your fist is not damaged."
Antonio Inoki, answering to a joke made by Muhammad Ali




Muhammad Hussain Inoki (born Kanji Inoki, February 20, 1943 - October 1, 2022) was 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 power. 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.note 

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 booted out of it. He went on to form Inoki Genome Federation, where he kept his philosophy of mixing MMA and professional wrestling. Inoki remained as the top MMA promoter in Japan and one of its greatest legends. He passed away on the 1st of October 2022.

"Moeru Tropes":

  • The Ace
    • 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 Am I: 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 called the wrestling style of Inoki Genome Federation that as well.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: To All Japan Pro Wrestling's Giant Baba, although Inoki's more ruthless attitude (both wrestling-wise and business-wise) led to almost Evil Counterpart levels.
  • Always Second Best:
    • 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 bully the Japanese guy, so he manhandled him with stiff suplexes and headbutts for a good portion of the match. 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 Bock really angry.
    • Yoshiaki Fujiwara, who appropriately worked as Inoki's bodyguard and sparring partner, has been consistently describes as his superior on the tatami. Inoki might have been the better striker of the two, however.
  • The Apprentice: To Rikidozan and Karl Gotch. He also started his wrestling training under Sonny Myers.
  • Arch-Enemy: Johnny Powers and Tiger Jeet Singh, 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, as well as the bizarre, NJPW-financed Pro Wrestling Star Azteckaiser and even the second run Tiger Mask.
  • Author Appeal: Inoki openly favored 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, won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship because he choked out 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 a NJPW low-carder when Inoki sent him to PRIDE, but after destroying Hans Nijman in the first round, he became 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 dominant booking.
    • Unlike them, Yoshihiro Takayama's efforts in MMA were not as successful, but his fighting spirit was enough f0r Inoki to introduce a "real fighting" title to reward him with, the NWF 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, 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 to work matches and forced the native roster to adopt MMA-style finishers and matches to fit with the general sense of real fighting.
  • Author Avatar: New Japan, Inoki Sports USA, Inoki Genome Federation, ISM, should NWA Pro's Inoki Dojo do a show...
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Although he is not usually counted among the greatest shooters of Japanese pro wrestling, especially compared to more talented and involved colleagues, Inoki was still one of the main students of Karl Gotch and reportedly became a quite impressive grappler under him and other trainers. Even when Inoki got older, according to Dave Meltzer, he once rolled with former UFC Heavyweight champion Dan Severn and caught him in a submission after another, and a rumor has him teaching a thing or two to NCAA champion Brock Lesnar too, back when Lesnar was new to MMA and wasn't knowledgeable about the game.
  • Badass Family: His older brother Hiroyasu Inoki was a 9th dan black belt, as high a reward as can possibly be received without founding the martial art in question, in Shotokan Karate who lived and taught in Brazil until his death in 2017.
  • Badass Teacher: Went to personally trained Kazuyuki Fujita and Lyoto Machida, among others.
  • Bad Boss:
    • The 2004 Toukon Festival featured Inoki as this both in and out of kayfabe, as after Shinsuke Nakamura was defeated by Kazuyuki Fujita by a brutal head kick, Inoki came to the ring to punch him in the face. In kayfabe, Inoki was furious because Nakamura hadn't shown enough fighting spirit on the loss. In real life, Inoki was furious because Nakamura had frustrated a lucrative contract due to his personal enmity with Naoya Ogawa.
    • When 2011 IGF match between Luke Gallows and Sylvester Terkay turned into a stinker, Inoki himself ran out, yelled profanity at them in English, told Masahiro Chono at ringside to end the match, then continued to yell at them while throwing chairs into the ring. This was Gallows's promotional debut.
  • 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 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, stopped cooperating with Inoki during their match, openly No Selling him and mocking him, then started potatoing him in the back of the head. Inoki, not exactly amused, took him down and stomped on his head until he was knocked 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, Inoki's main rival, as proof of it being propaganda.
  • 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
    • Was 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 enjoyed giving an almost Bond villain image - he even owned a private island in Cuba handed to him 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.
  • Disappeared Dad: His father died when he was 5 years old.
  • The Dreaded/Living Legend: One of the biggest martial arts legends in the world, period. His charisma is the stuff of legends and has made or broken entire careers.
    • 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 in what he would later describe as a "one-man diplomatic mission". He succeeded in bringing each and every one of those 41 home safe.
  • 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.
  • Freakiness Shame: Surprising as it might be, 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 reduced. However, the surgeon convinced him to leave it unchanged and instead encouraged him to use it as his persona trademark in wrestling.
  • The Greatest Style: His legendary series of "Ishu Kakutōgi Sen" fights were all about proving that Professional Wrestling was stronger than every other martial art, at least in kayfabe. These matches pitted him against martial artists of different styles: Dutch judoka Wim Ruskanote , boxer Muhammad Ali (in an infamous real match), pro wrestler André the Giant, Pakistani wrestler Akram Pahalwan note , American martial artist Everet "The Monsterman" Eddy, boxer Chuck Wepner note , Monsterman Expy Johnny "The Lumberjack" Lee, boxer Karl Mildenberger, "Professional Karateka" Mr. X note , American bodybuilder Mike "Left Hook" Dayton, Akhram's nephew Jhara Pahalwan note , Canadian pro wrestler/karateka Kim Klokeid, and Kyokushin karateka Willie "Bear Killer" Williams note .
    • After his climatic match against Willie Williams in 1980, Inoki would do these matches with less regularity, notably against sumo ōzeki Konishiki's kayfabe brother Anoaro Atisanoe, boxer Leon Spinks, judoka Shota Chochishvili note , kickboxer Gerard Gordeau and pro wrestler Sting, with rematches against Wim Ruska and Willie Williams. While Inoki's retirement match against Don Frye wasn't officially a style vs style match, Frye was well-known for his UFC stint before being a regular NJPW member.
  • Homage: His artistic name, Antonio, is a nod to Antonino Rocca, but there is a theory that it was given to him to emphasize his early gimmick as a Japanese-Brazilian.
  • How Much More Can He Take?: His "Island Death Match" with Masa Saito went for an hour and twenty five minutes.
  • I Know Karate: And Sumo Wrestling, and Catch Wrestling too. Aside, he is the co-founder of the Kansui-Ryu Karate school along with Yukio Mizutani.
  • Invincible Hero: Booked himself as this, and the Japanese audience generally seemed to love it, at least during NJPW's peak in the '70s-early '80s. Inoki's few losses after NJPW's foundation tended to be a way to build rivalries against Foreign Wrestling Heels like Tiger Jeet Singh, Bob Backlund during his WWF champion tenure, André the Giant, Stan Hansen or Hulk Hogan. In a notoriously infamous event, Inoki's Squash Match loss against a debuting Big Van Vader (in a feud against, of all people, Beat Takeshi) sparked a riot in the Osaka-jō Hall that banned NJPW from performing there during two yearsnote .
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Inoki's prominent jawbone is well known, reaching memetic levels in Japan.
  • Leitmotif: "Pacific Zone" in WCW.
  • Loner-Turned-Friend: He was apparently less social in his early career, and even Yoshiaki Fujiwara once thought he was autistic. It is said that he had a change in attitude after going to a self-development seminar.
  • 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.
  • One-Steve Limit: Octagon has a hold known as the Octopus too. Octagon's is also called La Escalera, or even "The Mexican Stretch", to differentiate it from Inoki's.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: In the dojo. He was great when going for real, only not as great as people like Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Akira Maeda, who were ultimately the ones to gain the reputation of being incredible shooters.
  • Power Stable
    • Founded an officially unnamed faction (often nicknamed "Inoki Army", "Anti-New Japan" or "Inoki Dojo") composed of shooters and MMA fighters to stir New Japan, which later led to the Makai Club.
    • 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 was 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.
    • He did it again with ISM.
  • The Starscream: 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,) Inoki Genome Federation, and ISM.
  • Strong as They Need to Be: In 1985, he bodyslammed King Kong Bundy. He also slammed André the Giant numerous times in the 70s and 80s.
  • 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, sort of - see Buddhism for more info.)
  • ˇThree Amigos!: Inoki was considered to be part of the NJPW "big three" executives along with Kotetsu Yamamoto and Hisashi Shinma. During the MMA era, he was part of another business trio with Tatsuo Kawamura and Seiya Kawamata.
  • 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: Wrote poetry during his free time.
  • Worked Shoot: Loved them, when not regular shoots. His "Ishu Kakutōgi Sen" or "Different Style Fights" were proof of it - he started to bring martial artists and combat sports champions to work matches against them. 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.
  • Worthy Opponent: Despite not doing either man any favors in the long term, Inoki and Ali were on such good terms after their infamous match that not only did Ali allow Inoki to use his theme song from his biopic, Ali was also Inoki's guest at the Collision in Korea PPV where NJWP and WCW stars went to Korea... North Korea. And like the outrageous excursion to Iraq, it was reportedly a roaring success.