Japanese Wrestling Icon Antonio Inoki Dies Aged 79

The NJPW founder and first ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion has passed away.

Antonio Inoki IWGP title
NJPW

Antonio Inoki has passed away aged 79.

Yahoo Japan is reporting that the NJPW founder and first ever IWGP Heavyweight Champion died at his home on Friday (Saturday morning local time in Japan). The website didn't include in-depth details on Inoki's passing, but it is understood that he was in poor health for a long time.

Tributes have started pouring in from all over the pro wrestling map. WWE's official website posted a touching snapshot of Inoki's influence on the industry - the company inducted Antonio into its Hall Of Fame in 2010, but such an honour couldn't define his iconic career.

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Inoki became the first IWGP Heavyweight Champ in 1987. He'd enjoy reigns with countless titles over the years, including an unrecognised six-day run as WWF Champion in 1979. The promotion wouldn't stick that in their own title linage, but announcer Corey Graves did acknowledge it on this past Friday's edition of SmackDown.

Perhaps Inoki's most famous bout was a 1976 'boxer vs. wrestler' clash with Muhammad Ali. That grabbed headlines all over the world, and was a banner moment in Antonio's career.

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All here at WhatCulture are saddened by this news, and extend condolences to the entire Inoki family.

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Lifelong wrestling, video game, music and sports obsessive who has been writing about his passions since childhood.