Almost crippled Muhammad Ali, Negotiated with Saddam Hussein - 5 things you should know about late WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki

5 things you should know about late WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki
5 things you should know about late WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki

After battling a rare disease called amyloidosis for several years, WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki sadly passed away on September 30, 2022, at age 79. The Japanese wrestling legend made his last public appearance in August when he appeared on a television show.

Mourning Inoki, WWE issued a statement in which the company dubbed him a "legend in his homeland" and a "tremendous ambassador for professional wrestling."

The wrestling legend has had an eventful life. Nearly half a century ago, the WWE Hall of Famer went head-to-head against one of the greatest boxers in history. He also went on a mission to meet Saddam Hussein.

Here are five things you should know about late WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki.

#5. Antonio Inoki's controversial match against Muhammad Ali

First Ali, then Gene Lebell, now Antonio Inoki.All three men involved in the most famous MMA fight of all time are now gone.RIP to a Japanese wrestling icon.#antonioinoki

In 1975, boxing legend Muhammad Ali was the reigning WBC/WBA heavyweight boxing champion. According to famous promoter Bob Arum, Ali's manager told him that some Japanese people had offered him money to fight Antonio Inoki.

When Ali later met the then-president of the Japan Amateur Wrestling Association, Ichiro Yada, at a party in the United States, he jokingly issued a challenge to Japanese fighters. When Yada brought Ali's challenge back to the Japanese press, Inoki accepted it and pursued a fight against the boxing champion.

Ali and Inoki squared off in a fight billed as The War of the Worlds on June 26, 1976, at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo. The match had special rules that prevented Inoki from using many of his moves. Surprisingly, the Japanese wrestling legend spent most of the bout lying on his back and throwing kicks at his opponent.

Bill Gallo of the New York Daily News recalled the events of the unusual match between Ali and Inoki.

"What could Ali do when his opponent spent his time safely flat on the floor and kicking the hell out of him? All Ali could do was look down at his foe, talking to him and waving his arms, urging the guy to get up and 'fight like a man'. No dice, the canvas was a lot safer to the Japanese canvasback," he said. [H/T: The Guardian]

The fight lasted 15 rounds. However, the fans in attendance were not happy. According to The Guardian, the crowd at the Budokan threw rubbish into the ring and chanted, "Money back! money back!" After the match ended, the judges announced the result as a 71-71 draw.

After the bout, Ali complained that he could not knock his opponent down when he was already on the floor. Inoki replied that he was unfairly "handicapped by the rules that said no tackling, no karate chops, no punching when on the mat."

Meanwhile, Bob Arum revealed that despite the fight being awful, Ali almost lost his leg because of it.

"So fine, OK. It was terrible, it was embarrassing. But Ali is bleeding from the legs. He gets an infection in his legs; almost has to have an amputation," he said. [H/T: The Guardian]

Arum pointed out that because of his fight against Inoki, Ali could have been a "cripple for the rest of his life." Despite this, the two legends later became friends.

#4. Antonio Inoki had an unrecognized WWE Championship reign

Antonio Inoki won the WWE Championship in 1979
Antonio Inoki won the WWE Championship in 1979

Between the mid-1970 and mid-1980s, Antonio Inoki wrestled a few matches in WWE. In his debut match, the Japanese legend defeated Frank Monte at Madison Square Garden in December 1975.

About four years later, Inoki reportedly went head-to-head against the reigning WWE Champion Bob Backlund in Tokushima, Japan. Their fight lasted about 30 minutes before the Japanese wrestler defeated his opponent after receiving help from Tiger Jeet Singh to capture the title.

Although Backlund defeated Inoki in a rematch a week later, former WWE President Hishashi Shinma declared the result a no contest due to further interference from Singh. However, the Japanese star vacated the championship that same night.

Last night on SmackDown, WWE color commentator Corey Graves noted that Inoki was the first Japanese wrestler to win the WWE Championship. However, he stated that the company never recognized his reign due to the controversy.

#3. Vince McMahon's father awarded Antonio Inoki a championship upon his arrival in the United States

Antonio Inoki held the WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship
Antonio Inoki held the WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship

In 1978, former WWE Chairman Vince McMahon's father, Vincent K. McMahon, awarded Antoni Inoki a title called the "WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship" upon his arrival in the United States in recognition of his achievements.

Between 1978 and 1985, Inoki defended his World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship a few times. However, after the affiliation between WWE and NJPW ended in 1985, the title became exclusive to NJPW.

After holding the championship for 3,780 days, Inoki lost his title to Georgian professional wrestler and judoka Shota Chochishvili in 1989. Nevertheless, the Japanese wrestling legend recaptured his title about a month later after defeating Chochishvili by submission.

Inoki's second reign lasted 220 days before NJPW decided to retire the championship on December 31. 1989.

#2. Antonio Inoki went on an unofficial diplomatic mission to meet Saddam Hussein

Antonio Inoki with a young Uday Hussein.#Inokism

In 1989, Antonio Inoki followed in his father's footsteps and started pursuing a political career. That same year, the Japanese wrestling legend got elected into the House of Councilors in his home country, representing his own Sports and Peace Party.

After the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990, Iraq held several Japanese nationals hostage, reportedly using them as "human shields." Inoki, now a member of Parliament, accompanied the hostages' families and headed to Iraq on an unofficial mission to negotiate the release of the Japanese nationals with then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Impressively, the WWE Hall of Famer succeeded in his mission. After their negotiations, Hussein treated Inoki as a visiting head-of-state, gifting him a pair of golden swords. In an interview with Press TV, Inoki dubbed his mission to Iraq his proudest moment.

"The moment of which I'm most proud was in 1990 when I went to Iraq on an unofficial on-man diplomatic mission to negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the successful release of the Japanese hostages," he said. [From 0:35 to 0:48]

Inoki served two terms as a member of the House of Councilors. His first ended in 1995. Meanwhile, his second lasted for six years, between 2013 and 2019.

#1. Antonio Inoki changed his name to Muhammad Hussein after visiting Iraq

Antonio Inoki converted to Islam in 1990
Antonio Inoki converted to Islam in 1990

During his visit to Iraq to negotiate with Saddam Hussein, he was invited to make a pilgrimage to Karbala, the Shiite holy city. The Japanese wrestling legend then converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Hussein.

While visiting Pakistan a few years ago, the Hall of Famer revealed that people suggested he change his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam. However, he refused.

"When I converted, people suggested that I change my name to Muhammad Ali but I turned down the idea as I had already fought against the great boxer Ali," he said. [H/T: RahyaFetha]

During his visit to Pakistan, Inoki referred to himself as a Muslim convert and a Buddhist. He also recalled how he converted to Islam in Iraq several years earlier.

"They said, 'You become a Muslim,' and I couldn't say no,” he said in an interview [H/T: The Washington Post]

Despite this, the WWE Hall of Famer stated in 2012 that he was "usually" a Buddhist.

A WWE legend feels like Vince McMahon can only blame himself for his situation. More details here

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Edited by Jeevak Ambalgi