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Obituary: Antonio Inoki

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

June 26, 1976, Tokyo - under the glaring lights of a wrestling ring, two legendary athletes faced off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Well, this is it - the 15th and final round of Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki.

RASCOE: Antonio Inoki, one of the most renowned Japanese wrestlers, died this past week at age 79. His contest against Muhammad Ali clinched Inoki's reputation as a top fighter. ESPN describes it as one of the most-watched fights of the generation. And the match - boxer versus wrestler - was also an important precursor of the mixed martial arts genre.

But Inoki was also a force outside the ring. He started the Sports and Peace political party in Japan and was elected to the country's parliament. He traveled repeatedly to North Korea and helped negotiate the release of 36 hostages from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Antonio Inoki wrestled until 1998. And in 2010, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.