Antonio Inoki, popular Japanese wrestler and lawmaker died on Saturday, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, his company, said on Twitter. He was 79. 

Public broadcaster NHK said Inoki died of heart failure. The 79-year-old Inoki was battling a rare disease called amyloidosis. 

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“New Japan Pro-Wrestling is deeply saddened at the passing of our founder, Antonio Inoki. His achievements, both in professional wrestling and the global community are without parallel and will never be forgotten,” the company said. 

Inoki faced world boxing champion Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts match in 1976. 

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Who was Antonio Inoki? 

Born Kanji Inoki in Yokohama, Japan, Muhammad Hussain Inoki was known by his ring name Antonio Inoki. He was a professional wrestler, martial artist and politician. 

Inoki was a twelve-time professional wrestling world champion. The 79-year-old was the first IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the first Asian WWF Heavyweight Champion. 

He was the sixth son and the second-youngest of the seven boys and four girls. His father, Sajiro Inoki, was a businessman. Antonio studied karate by an older brother. He went to the Higashidai Grade School.

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He then joined Terao Junior High School’s basketball team but later quit to pursue shot put. Inoki had to migrate to Brazil with his grandfather when he was 14. His grandfather died during the journey. 

At 17, he met Rikidōzan, who trained him in Japan. Inoki trained in the JWA dojo under Karl Gotch. 

Inoki made his pro-wrestling debut in 1960 and gave himself a ring name Antonio Inoki two years later.

He rose to global fame in the sport in 1976 when he faced Ali in a mixed martial arts match at Tokyo’s Budokan hall, an exhibition match that Japanese fans remember as “the fight of the century.”

To many of those outside Japan, however, the match was seen as unprofessional and not taken seriously. Inoki was mostly on the mat and kicking at Ali’s legs as the boxing champion circled around him.

He was the first in his sport to enter politics. He promoted peace through sports and made more than 30 trips to North Korea during his time as a lawmaker in hopes of forging peace and friendship.

He retired as a wrestler in 1998, but remained active in politics until 2019.