Ryogoku sees Antonio Inoki celebration

Grand public farewell for NJPW’s iconic founder

On Tuesday March 7, Ryogoku Sumo Hall saw a public celebration of the life and times of Antonio Inoki. The public wake would be attended by a host of fans as well as legendary figures present to pay final respects. 

The entrance to Ryogoku was adorned with memorabilia, from used ring boots, to title belts, and a tapestry displaying his famous speech ‘The Road’. 

Inoki’s long time friend and partner in ring and in business Seiji Sakuguchi started the proceedings, before a ten bell salute and video detailing the man’s incredible history. Tributes would ensue, starting with comments from former Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori.

Yoshiro Mori, (former Prime Minister of Japan)

When it comes to Inoki san, there is far too much to talk abotu between what he did for professional wrestling and in politics. What I will say personally is that your courage, your strength, character and disposition is something for which I’m forever grateful.   

I was in the middle of the gubnertorial election sin Ishikawa, and you phoned me from your sickbed. It was just like that video we saw of you at the end of your life. Yet your question to me was how was (Hiroshi) Hase doing. You were on the doorstep between one world and the next, fighting for your life, but here you were with concern for your student. So I answered ‘if we lose, it would be a disrespect to you’, and you answered ‘that’s right. So get out there’. It was close, but Hase won. Inoki was Inoki to the end. 

There’s so much I want to say, and my four minutes has already passed halfway. I got introduced to Hase via you taking a shine to a friend of my son’s who passed away 13 years ago, and it was my son who brought Hase into politics. You really were a focal point that made the world turn. I hope that people remember the spirit and the fire of those words in the video we saw earlier on, and are inspired to be the best they can be. 

I know that my time will come soon enough, and when I do, I hope I can count on your support in the beyond. I know we all talk about resting in peace at times like these, but I like to think that on this world or the next, you are still taking the lead with your Fighting Spirit, protecting us in Japan and all its people. Thank you for what you’ve done, for my party, for me, for my family. From the bottom of my heart, thank you very much. 

Tatsumi Fujinami

I first met you when I was 16. Now I’m 69- before I knew it, I’d known you for 53 years. I was a little kid from the country who saw flickering images of you on an old tube TV, and wanted to be just like you. 53 years since I managed to get an in with my school senior Kitazawa san, and came to Tokyo to break in.

I was thinking about this the other day- when you started out on this venture with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, I didn’t hesitate for a moment in following you.  I knew in my heart it was the right call. Next thing I knew, I was carrying five, six suitcases of yours in the middle of the night to the brand new NJPW offices. Six people on the staff list for a promotion you, Kotetsu Yamamoto, us at the time created by hand.

It really hit home after you were gone just how much I always wanted to be you. The moves, the clothes, hairstyle, everything. You changed my life to an indescribable way. You were the motivator, the figure I looked up to and pursued through my life and career. Our match in Yokohama on August 8 1988 is something that I will never ever forget, and you putting the belt around my waist one of the happiest moments of my life. We stood up to difficulties together, even later with me as President and you as owner (of NJPW). We had our differences, and sometimes I’d give you the cold shoulder. But I never once had an ill feeling toward you.   

There is still a sadness at your passing. I spent more time with you and around you than with my own parents; I dare say your presence and aura will never leave me. That Fighting Spirit you taught me is connected to me forever, and through that, you are connected with people that I have taught and trained, and on and on. My leader and hero, a trailblazer to the end, please rest- but do make sure you visit us in the ring again from time to time, we’re always happy to have you watch on. 

Hiroshi Tanahashi 

Inoki-san, thank you. I’m here to represent the wrestlers and speak on their behalf. It is because of the courage that you have to give rise to NJPW that so many have dreamed of becoming wrestlers themselves, myself included. Fans have gathered here today in huge numbers to pay tribute to you, and that’s all because of what you have done. Now to get personal, my father gave me one of your kanji characters in my name, in tribute to you. I went on to wrestle for a living, and I’ve never regretted it. I hope you watch on, with a stern eye, as we continue to work with the company you created at the forefront of the wrestling world.

Ichiro Furutachi (former TV Asahi announcer)

“In the middle of that ring right now it’s Inoki! Grappling the mighty Andre the Giant in a short arm scissors, and Andre is writhing in pain! A desperate titan is Andre at 2m 23cm and 260 kg! A Himalayan range of a human being, brought to the mercy of Inoki! And he still maintains the hold, Andre struggling as if trying to heave a semi ton truck off his shoulders! Andre in trouble, but Inoki releases.

Now Inoki to the top! What is Inoki thinking! A dive from the top headfirst to center ring! With thunderous power and dangerous precision, the pinpoint of the arm and shoulder of Andre! And you can hear, you can feel the impact! What next for Inoki”, Inoki…

What was it about Inoki-san, about his matches that made the words just tumble out of my mouth? I was brand new at this, and I didn’t know then. But I think with time, I came to understand. When Antonio Inoki wrestled, he had a clear vision in his mind. He had a story, a narrative, a legend in his head. And all I had to do, all my job was, was in taking that image existing in Inoki’s mind, and putting it to words. 

Inoki spoke in that physical language, and it was such a beautiful language to speak, spoken so eloquently. That’s why he could do one punch, but for him, unlike anyone else, it wasn’t a punch, but a rocketing, punishing fist.  

All those stories told with that body. Are you at ease now? About four days before you went on that final journey, I came to see you, barely able to speak, lying in bed. I was trying so hard to come up with words that could be of comfort to you and I couldn’t find any. I just put my hand on your leg, and kept to myself the sentiment that there were so many, so many people you touched, that were inspired by you and loved you, and you could never possibly die alone.  

When I went home that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. That golden age, when you were 125 kilos, a mountain of a man. And there you were, 79 years old and less than half that weight, not able to eat, or move, or speak. I wanted you to have peace and release from that struggle, and at the same time, wanted you to have that ego to keep living.  

I kept thinking back since. Pakistan in ’84 a slog that had us on our knees, but not you, cracking terrible jokes and smiling a winning smile that kept us going. Singing in bars in Roppongi. I could go on.

It’s been five months and one week since you left us. A long, long ramp form this world to the rings of the next. And how many times did we see it, how much is that image ingrained of that Atlantean back, walking down that entrance way, ‘Fighting Spirit’ on that gown. Take that walk slow, and take it all in. 

“Inoki! Inoki turns and looks over his shoulder at us! And silently, he turns back and continues his confident stride into the unknown. His body shrinks from sight in distance and the depth of our gratitude. One last time, thank you for that last, poignant physical song.” Antonio Inoki, thank you. Kanji Inoki, farewell. 


Dory Funk Jr.

In my career, one of my strongest opponents was the great Antonio Inoki. I remember the 60 minute draw in Osaka like it was yesterday. Antonio Inoki has the fighting spirit that will remain in our hearts forever. To all wrestling fans, and the new wrestling fans, please don’t ever forget Antonio Inoki. 

Tiger Jeet Singh

Hello to all my wrestling fans in Japan. We are all here to celebrate the life of a legend in Mr. Inoki. May God rest his soul. Inoki-san Ichiban! Number one!

Keisuke Inoki (Inoki’s younger brother)

Thank you for coming to this wake, and thank you to everyone from IGF and NJPW for putting together this special event. The last words that Antonio Inoki left us were ‘thank you’ and I would like to restate those words today. Thank you very much. 

Inoki’s grandson Naoto and Kazuchika Okada would end the ceremony with a call of ‘1,2,3 Daa!’ before dignitaries presented floral tributes to the ring erected in the center of Ryogoku. Tributes from the general public continued in the afternoon in Ryogoku as an iconic figure received one last public salute.