Trailblazing professional wrestler Antonio Inoki, who famously fought Muhammad Ali in a mixed-rules match, reportedly died Saturday at his home in his native Japan.
Inoki died of apparent heart failure after battling illnesses for years and being confined to a wheelchair. No official cause of death has been released.
Inoki — a legend in Japan — shot to fame in 1976 when he got into the ring with Ali at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo. The sold-out fight was shown on a Jumbotron to 32,897 spectators at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. Inoki badly injured Ali during the 15-round bout, getting in more than 100 kicks to the fabled boxer’s legs. Their fight ended in a draw.
Capitalizing on his newfound popularity, Inoki would become the most influential pro wrestler in Japan’s history. In 1972, he launched the New Japan Pro-Wrestling Company, promoting some of the biggest matches involving Hulk Hogan, Dory Funk Jr., Big Van Vader and Bruiser Brody. Inoki also pinned Ric Flair in a 1995 match and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
What’s more … Inoki was a storied politician who successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein for the release of Japanese hostages before the 1990 Gulf War in Iraq. And, he worked with North Korea to stop the kidnappings of Japanese citizens in Pyongyang during the Cold War.