Inoki entered the Higashidai Grade School. By the time he was in 7th grade at Terao Junior High School, he was 180 centimeters tall, and joined the basketball team. He later quit and joined a track and field club as a shot putter. He eventually won the championship at the Yokohama junior high school track and field competition. Inoki was taught karate by an older brother while in 6th grade, and was scouted for a career in professional sumo while in junior high school.
The family fell on hard times in the post-war years, and in 1957, the 14 year-old Inoki immigrated to Brazil with his grandfather, mother and brothers. His grandfather died during the journey to Brazil. Inoki won regional championships in Brazil in the shot put, discus throw, and javelin throw, and finally the All Brazilian championships in the shot put and discus .
Fired from JWA in late 1971 for planning a takeover of the promotion, Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972. His first match as a New Japan wrestler was against Karl Gotch. During his career, Inoki has had classic bouts with Tiger Jeet Singh, Johnny Powers, Stan Hansen, Hulk Hogan, André the Giant, Big Van Vader, and Masa Saito. In 1995 the Japanese and Korean governments came together to hold a two-day wrestling festival for peace in Pyongyang, North Korea. The event drew 150,000 and 190,000 fans respectively to May Day Stadium. The main event saw the first and only match between Inoki and Ric Flair with Inoki coming out on top. Days before this event, Antonio Inoki and the Korean press went to the grave and birthplace of Rikidozan and paid tribute to him.
On November 30 1979, Inoki defeated then WWF Champion Bob Backlund in Tokushima, Japan but, in a re-match on December 6th, Backlund pinned Inoki. However, then WWF president, Hisashi Shinma declared the match a no-contest due to interference from Tiger Jeet Singh and Inoki still held the title. However, Inoki refused the title on the same day and it would be declared vacant. Backlund later defeated Bobby Duncum in a Texas Death Match to regain the title on December 12. As Inoki refused the title his reign is not included, nor is it recognized, by the WWE in its official history and Backlund is recognized as having one reign from 1978-1983.
Antonio Inoki was amongst the group of professional wrestlers who were tutored in the art of hooking and shooting by the professional wrestler Karl Gotch. Inoki then went on to stage a series of mixed martial arts matches against champions from numerous other disciplines of martial arts. Inoki named his method of fighting Strong style professional wrestling. This method of professional wrestling as taught to Inoki by Karl Gotch, which borrowed heavily from professional wrestling's original catch wrestling roots, is one of the most important influences of modern shoot wrestling.
Antonio Inoki was a pioneer of mixed martial arts and has faced many opponents from all dominant disciplines of combat from various parts of the world, such as Akram Pahalwan in Pakistan, Willie Williams of Kyokushin Karate, Olympic judo gold medalist Willem Ruska and WBA and WBC World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali.
Though many of Inoki's matches were dismissed by the skeptics as worked, there has been little or no proof at all to suggest the validity of the worked theory and Inoki's mixed martial arts opponents have never stated that the matches were "fake". Most of the skepticism arose from the fact that Inoki was a professional wrestler, which automatically led to an assumption that the matches might have been worked. This has yet to dent the image of Inoki in the eyes of the Japanese fans, where he is still viewed as a very legitimate wrestler.
The worked theory also arises from Inoki's June 26, 1976 match in Tokyo with Muhammad Ali. Inoki initially promised Ali a worked match to get him to fight in Japan, but when the deal materialized Ali's camp feared that Inoki would turn the fight into a shoot, which many believe was Inoki's intention. Ali visited a professional wrestling match involving Inoki and witnessed Inoki's grappling ability. This led Ali's camp to restrict the fight to striking rules only, with grappling disallowed.
The rules of the match were announced several months in advance. However, two days before the match a several new rules were added which severely limited the moves that each man could perform. A rule change that had a major outcome on this match was that Inoki could only throw a kick if one of his knees was on the ground.
In the match, Ali landed a total of six punches to Inoki and Inoki kept to his back in a defensive position almost the full duration of the match of 15 rounds, hitting Ali with a low kick repeatedly. The bout ended in a draw, 3-3. Ali left without a press conference and suffered damage to his legs as a result of Inoki's repeated leg kicks.
One of the few professional wrestlers whose career lasted longer than 35 years, Inoki established the "strong style", using stiffness and realistic maneuvers borrowing from professional wrestling's original catch wrestling roots. Shoot style wrestling arose from Inoki's "strong style".
Many of Inoki's disciples, including the original Tiger Mask Satoru Sayama, Masakatsu Funaki, Nobuhiko Takada, Minoru Suzuki, Akira Maeda, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kazuyuki Fujita, among others, have had success in mixed martial arts, and the roster of NJPW is known to have pioneered mixed martial arts federations including RINGS, Shooto, PRIDE, and Pancrase.
It is due to Antonio Inoki that fighters like Naoya Ogawa, Josh Barnett, Wallid Ismail and Ryoto Machida have actively represented NJPW in mixed martial arts events giving notoriety to it and professional wrestling.
Antonio Inoki also organizes Mixed Martial Arts events like "NJPW Ultimate Crush" and "Jungle Fight", showing traditional professional wrestling matches and mixed martial arts matches on the same card. Some of the major attractions of these events involve the best of NJPW against world renowned fighters in mixed martial arts matches.
Inoki is now the ambassador for the International Fight League's Tokyo entry, the Sabres.
|16 wins (9 KO, 5 submissions, 2 pins), 1 loss (1 KO), 3 draws|
|Win||Chota Chochoshvili||Submission (kimura)||1989-05-25||2||1:07||Osaka, Japan|
|Loss||Chota Chochoshvili||KO||1989-04-24||5||1:20||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||Leon Spinks||Pin||1986-10-09||8||1:23||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||Anoalo Atisanoe||Pin||1984-09-20||5||0:25||Osaka, Japan|
|Draw||Willie Williams||Draw (both fell out of the ring)||1980-02-27||4||1:24||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||Kim Klokeid||KO||1979-12-13||3||0:58||Kyoto, Japan|
|Win||Willem Ruska||Submission (bow and arrow)||1979-10-05||15:06||South Korea|
|Draw||Jhara Pelwan||Draw||1979-06-16||5||Lahore, Pakistan|
|Win||Mike Dayton||TKO||1979-04-03||6||1:19||Fukuoka, Japan|
|Win||Submission (arm scissors)||1979-02-06||3||0:50||Osaka, Japan|
|Win||Karl Mildenberger||Submission (boston crab)||1978-11-09||4||1:15||Frankfurt, Germany|
|Win||Everett Eddie||KO||1978-06-07||7||1:58||Fukuoka, Japan|
|Win||Johnny Lee||KO||1978-04-04||3||1:19||Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Win||Chuck Wepner||Submission (boston crab)||1977-10-25||6||1:35||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||Everett Eddie||KO (leg drop)||1977-08-08||5||1:38||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||Akrum Pelwan||TKO (kimura, broken arm)||1976-12-12||3||1:05||Karachi, Pakistan|
|Win||Willem Ruska||TKO||1976-12-09||21:27||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||André the Giant||TKO (head to ring corner post)||1976-10-07||23:44||Tokyo, Japan|
|Draw||Muhammad Ali||Draw (time limit)||1976-06-26||15||Tokyo, Japan|
|Win||Willem Ruska||TKO (back suplexes)||1976-02-06||20:56||Tokyo, Japan|