The first inductee to the 2010 WWE Hall of Fame has been announced. While the name is not nearly as juicy as some of the other rumored names like the Ultimate Warrior, it is an interesting name nonetheless. Japanese Pro Wrestling legend and MMA pioneer, Antonio Inoki is the first name confirmed to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on WrestleMania weekend.
Inoki is a curious name for a WWE honor. While there is no doubt that Inoki is a pro wrestling legend, his impact in the United States is quite minimal. Inoki did wrestle on sporadic WWF tours throughout the 70s and 80s in America, but never had the kind of international impact that say Mil Mascaras had or Giant Baba had on the N.W.A. While casual fans may not be aware of Inoki’s most important WWF moment, hardcore fans have heard the tale of Inoki’s “secret” WWF world title win.
Believe it or not, Antonio Inoki is a former WWF world champion. Inoki pinned champion Bob Backlund to win the title on November 30, 1979 in Tokushima, Japan. Even to this day, the WWE does not acknowledge the title switch in its WWE championship lineage on WWE.com. The belt was held up after a controversial rematch. Inoki was never pinned or lost the title back. Backlund would wrestle Bobby Duncam in Madison Square Garden on December 12 in a match for the held up title. Backlund pinned Duncam to win the held up WWF title, yet it was never acknowledged to anyone that the title was held up or that Backlund had lost the belt to Inoki.
Inoki is probably most known in America for his infamous fight with Muhammad Ali in 1976. The match was historic on so many levels with hundreds of stories behind the match that are more interesting than the match itself. This was actually Vince McMahon Jr.’s first giant leap at promoting mega shows. The event was largely recognized as a big disappointment for various reasons. However, this was arguably the catalyst for Mixed Martial-Arts, something that Inoki would play a big part of in Japan.
In Japan, Inoki is every bit as much of a legend to pro wrestling there as Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin are here in this country. Inoki opened up his own company, New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972. NJPW was arguably the most successful pro wrestling company in the world for two decades. If you thought Hulk Hogan got a big reaction in the 1980s during his peak, you haven’t heard anything until you watch an Antonio Inoki match from the 1980s.
It is rumored that Stan Hansen will be inducting Inoki into the WWE Hall of Fame on WrestleMania weekend. Hansen is a real curious name and someone I wouldn’t have expected to see in this role. While Hansen and Inoki had a tremendous feud in NJPW, Hansen jumped to Inoki’s rival All Japan Pro Wrestling group while Inoki was in charge. I would imagine that Hulk Hogan would have been the likely candidate here due to his famous rivalry with Inoki. Of course that isn’t happening due to his association with TNA Wrestling. Ric Flair would have been another likely candidate, yet he is with Hogan in TNA Wrestling so that makes him unavailable also. With Hogan and Flair unavailable, I guess Hansen is the best choice after all.
Expect more names to be revealed shortly.
Antonio Inoki vs. Andre the Giant
Antonio Inoki vs. Hulk Hogan
Antonio Inoki vs. Bruiser Brody
Order the WWE Hall of Fame 2004 DVD