Wrestler who fought Muhammad Ali and negotiated with Saddam Hussein dies aged 79

A wrestler whose career spanned from fighting Muhammad Ali to negotiating with Saddam Hussein has died aged 79.

Antonio Inoki, a historic and popular Japanese wrestler, is best known for fighting Ali in a mixed martial art match back in 1976 in a match that was labelled the War of the Worlds as Inoki pioneered to prove that wrestling was the dominant fighting discipline. The fight wasn't loved by spectators who began throwing rubbish into the ring as the two fighters fought out a draw.

The WWE Hall of Famer was also the first of his sport to enter the world of politics, with him being a strong pioneer for peace as he visited North Korea more than 30 times in a bid to ease tensions. During his career in politics, he also played a key part in saving hostages from Iraq before the start of the Gulf War.

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Before the start of the war in 1990, Saddam Hussein arrested and held around 100 Japenese families living in Iraq hostage, with him using them as human shields. Negotiations between Japan and Iraq stalled, with Inoki heroically taking charge of securing the release of the Japanese people as he worked in the House of Councillors at the time.

Due to his reputation and fame, he took the mantle of negotiator and approached the Iraqi Government, with him taking up the position of a representative of the Japanese people rather than on behalf of the state. This lead to him travelling to Iraq three times in three months between September and December 1990.

The crisis lasted several months, with Inoki organising a peace festival in the country as he built up goodwill with the Iraqi Government. The festivals included Japanese wrestling matches, traditional taiko drummers, rock concerts, football, basketball, karate, and judo exhibitions at Saddam Arena.

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Following the festival, he travelled with 46 hostages but was asked to stay after a letter that he wrote found its way to Saddam Hussein who requested he stayed in the country. The next day the remaining hostages were set free, with the sports minister at the time apologising for keeping the families for so long.

Thanks to the heroics and hard work from Inoki, Japan and Iraq built a healthy relationship going forward, with the wrestler turned peacekeeper building an even more remarkable legacy.

Despite a cause of death yet to be confirmed, the wrestler was diagnosed with the heart disease systemic amyloidosis and was seen in a wheelchair in recent years.

Paying tribute to Inoki, WWE posted: "WWE is saddened to learn of the passing of WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki. One of the key figures in the history of Japanese wrestling, Antonio Inoki was among the most respected men in sports entertainment and a bona fide legend in his homeland."


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