Antonio Inoki passed away in 2022, at the age of just 79. The Japanese legend was long retired, wrestling his last match in 2003 before taking up a full-time role as a wrestling promoter and a politician. He ran New Japan Pro Wrestling until 2005, before starting up the Inoki Genome Federation in 2007, although he struggled to find success with the latter.
However, before these endeavors, Antonio Inoki still had to put his wrestling career to bed. He had wrestled in Japan since the 1960s, rising through the ranks of the JWA Dojo while being trained by Rikidozan and Karl Gotch alongside his friend and partner Giant Baba. The two became the biggest stars in Japan, but after uncovering immense fraud in the promotion decided to stage a coup to take over the company, leading to both of them being fired.
After this, they each formed their own pro-wrestling companies. Giant Baba created All-Japan Pro Wrestling, while Antonio Inoki was the found of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Both men wrestled for their respective companies until they retired, with Giant Baba’s last match taking place in 1998.
Learn more about Antonio Inoki’s Inoki-ism which almost killed New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Meanwhile, Antonio Inoki ended his full-time wrestling career at an event promoted in his honor. This was called the “NJPW The Final Inoki Tournament”, and was the show where his last match was supposed to take place. In the main event of the show, Antonio Inoki defeated Don Frye in just four minutes, making him pass out in an Octopus Stretch in a match that nearly got Don Frye killed.
While this was supposed to signal the end of Antonio Inoki’s career, he continued to wrestle in exhibition matches over the next few years. Taking on pop stars like Hideaki Takizawa and MMA fighters like Don Frye and Renzo Gracie, he continued to promote fighting and wrestling into his 60s.
Antonio Inoki wrestled his last proper match on New Year’s Eve 2001, at one of his “Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye” events. These stadium shows combined the worlds of kickboxing, MMA and occasionally professional wrestling, to create a festival of fighting that fans of professional wrestling and martial arts could enjoy.
Inoki was 60-years-old in his last match, which came five-years after his official retirement match in New Japan Pro Wrestling. However, he came out of retirement for a grappling exhibition match with Renzo Gracie in 2001, showcasing the art of mixed-martial arts that had become a force in Japan, with promotions like PRIDE and K1 overtaking wrestling in popularity.
Wanting to combine the best of both worlds, Inoki created “Inoki-ism” and began to bleed MMA into pro-wrestling (with disastrous results). This match showcased this, as Inoki and Gracie grappled each other around the ring for one three-minute round, showcasing what Inoki-ism could become in professional wrestling.
While this would be Inoki’s last official match, he had one more in-ring performance in him that had the fans on their feet one last time. One more bout against Tatsumi Fujinami awaited him at Fujinami’s retirement show, but it was one step too far.
While the 62-year-old legend was long retired, he put on a good, technial performance against his long-time friend, but was choked out by Fujinami to end this impromptu match and end his career for good. At the end of the
While this is not technically his last match, as the bell never rang and there was no referee, It would be remiss to not include it when talking about Antonio Inoki’s last match. While this was meant to also be Tatsumi Fujinami’s final match, he came out of retirement soon after, and even wrestled in the Antonio Inoki Memorial six-man tag team match at Wrestle Kingdom 17, in 2023.
You can watch Antonio Inoki’s last match by clicking the video below.