Japan: Antonio Inoki, pro wrestling star turned politician dies

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Antonio Inoki, a Japanese professional wrestling star turned politician, died on Saturday, aged 79, according to New Japan Pro-Wrestling, a company he founded.

Inoki was well-known for his bout against boxing legend Muhammad Ali as well as for his ties to North Korea.

“New Japan Pro-Wrestling is deeply saddened at the passing of our founder, Antonio Inoki,” the company said on Twitter.

According to the Japanese public broadcaster NHK, he died of heart failure.

Atsushi Onita, another pro wrestler turned politician, paid his tribute on Twitter saying, “Thank you, Inoki-san. The supreme father of pro wrestling.”

From professional wrestling to politics

The flamboyant Inoki made global headlines in 1976 for his mixed martial arts match against Ali — called “the bout of the century.”

Inoki, known for his outsized chin and trademark tie and red scarf worn throughout the year, won a seat in the upper house of Japan’s parliament in 1989.

The following year he traveled to Iraq during the Gulf War and negotiated the release of Japanese hostages.

The former wrestler also built close personal ties to North Korea and traveled there many times to resolve the issue of the Japanese citizens kidnapped during the Cold War by the reclusive nation.

In 1995, he organized a wrestling extravaganza in Pyongyang for more than 100,000 spectators. Japanese officials dismissed his trips as Tokyo had banned travel to North Korea.

ss/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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