A pro wrestler may seem like an unlikely ambassador for peace and for human rights. But Antonio Inoki, a Japanese wrestler, has made these ideals a part of his life.
Legendary Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki recently received a hero’s welcome at the Wrestling for Peace Festival in Pakistan. He returned to the country after a lapse of 36 years to celebrate 60 years of Pakistani-Japanese relations and promote peace through wresting and sportsmanship.
The 6 feet 4 inches Yokohama native has fought many bouts against famous wrestlers and exponents of other martial arts, including Muhammad Ali and Pakistani wrestling champion Akram Pahalwan. These days he is a proponent for peace and human rights.
“My most famous fight was with Muhammad Ali in 1976, which ended in a draw,” Inoki said. “However, the moment of which I am most proud was in 1990 when I went to Iraq on an unofficial one-man diplomatic mission to negotiate with Saddam Hussein for the successful release of Japanese hostages right before the Gulf War.”
Often paired with fellow Japan pro-wrestling great Giant Baba in a tag team, Inoki was the first Japanese wrestler to be inducted into the World Wrestling entertainment Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2010. He has also performed with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. As a public figure, he was so popular that he was elected to the Japanese parliament in 1989.
“I started my career when I was 17 years old, and retired from professional wrestling matches and mixed martial arts in 1994,” he said. “Now I’m a peace ambassador who arranges major pro wrestling events around the world. In fact, in 1995, I even organized a wrestling festival for peace that was held in Pyongyang, North Korea.”
Hiro Watanabe, a businessman in Tokyo, said, “He’s still very popular and strong. I believe he is successful in negotiating for peace because everyone has a common interest in sports and loves a hero.”
As a businessman, Inoki founded the New Japan Pro Wrestling organization, one of the most successful of its type in Asia.
He fought many matches against opponents practicing other martial arts, including karate, judo and boxing. He’s also been in movies, and there are toys and cartoon characters made using his image.
Dividing his time between Tokyo and New York City, Inoki continues to endorse peace and human rights, and says he uses wrestling and martial arts as a way of promoting the goal of international brotherhood.