"Burning Fighting Spirit" Antonio Inoki Retiremenet Match

1998/4/4 Tokyo Dome (70,000 sold out)

Antonio Inoki Retirement Match
  Antonio Inoki (4'09" ground cobra [abdominal stretch on the grond]) Don Frye
I.W.G.P. Heavyweight Title Match
  Tatsumi Fujinami (21'18" german suplex hold) Kensuke Sasaki
I.W.G.P. Tag Team Title Match
  Masahiro Chono & Keiji Mutoh 1-0 Shin'ya Hashimoto & Osamu Nishimura
    Chono (18'27" chicken wing) Nishimura
I.W.G.P. Junior Heavyweight Title Match
  Jushin Thunder Liger (15'28" pin) Kendo Ka Shin
  Don Frye (5'0" TKO) Naoya Ogawa
Shinjiro Ohtani (12'10" dragon suplex hold) Yuji Yasuraoka
  Tatsuhito Takaiwa (17'05" pin) Kouji Kanemoto
Shiro Koshinaka, Tatsutoshi Goto, & Michiyoshi Ohara 1-0 Junji Hirata, Kazuo Yamazaki, & Tadao Yasuda
  Koshinaka (9'26" pin) Yasuda
Manabu Nakanishi & Satoshi Kojima 1-0 Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hiro Saito
  Nakanishi (12'04" high-jack back breaker) Saito
  Don Frye (3'57" KO) Igor Meindart
  Naoya Ogawa (3'30" cross arm scissors) Brian Johnston

I waited for this day rather calmly because in my mind, Inoki's retirement was already done. To me, Inoki's actual retirement match was a 60min draw againt Fujinami. I felt the end of an era then. Since then, Inoki was only a vision to me. I was ready for Inoki's retirement since ten years ago.
Probably, most of the "Inoki-ists" have the same feeling. Each one of them probably has his/her own retirement match in mind. For some of them, Inoki's retirement was the match when he was knocked out by Hogan's axe bomber. Perhaps the match he lost to Choshu after six lariats. Or, it might be the first mixed match loss againt Chochoshvili.
So, this retirement match is only a transition to me. Also, Inoki won't be finished by not wrestling on the ring. I see "World Martial Arts Association" as his new plan.
With that being said, the retirement match wasn't a memorial match against one of the past rivals. Instead, it was against a winner of the tournament with the future stars. Since it's the case, I want Inoki to wrestle against Ogawa after all. I couldn't think of anybody but Ogawa from the things in progress. However, Inoki might surprise us until the end like he always did. That's fine too. In fact, I didn't care who was going to be his opponent. I was satisfied just to see his last match.

Tokyo Dome
I had arrived at the Dome by noon. I was thinking about buying merchandises before many people arrive, but more than that, I just couldn't sit down and relax at home. Although the card wasn't to start until 4pm, the tickets were already sold out as a lot of people were around the Dome. To get 1,500 tickets in the standing section, there were 300 people who waited at the Dome over night. The crowd was 70,000, which was a new record for both Tokyo Dome and any fighting sport events in Japan. After the card, I was lining up to leave the Dome, Hidekazu Tanaka (ring announcer) told us that they actually put more than 70,000 people but want to keep it secret because it was illegal to have more people in the building.
After buying the merchandises, I looked in the Yamashita Bookstore. I saw Inoki everywhere in the store. After buying the related books, I sat down at the park in front of the Dome until the appointment at 3pm to meet my friends.

The Card Starts

Heisei 4 (1998 = 4th year of the current Emperor's reign), April 4th at 4PM, they played the orchestra version of the "Fighter of the Fire". They had better reaction from the audience than any Dome cards in the past.
As expected, the finalists of the tournament were Ogawa and Frye. Ogawa was doing well after giving an STO but knocked down with a punch by Frye. Then, Ogawa received more punches from Frye, who was on a mount position. The audience at the Dome sighed with disappointment when Sayama in Ogawa's corner threw a white towel.
Hashimoto, who entered for the IWGP tag title match, took his Rikidozan gown off, put it ont he aisle. Under the gown, he was wearing the gown which said "The Fighting Spirit Tradition". He took it off and put it on the aisle before entering the ring. His partner was Nishimura, and they were against the nWo team of Chono and Mutoh. I usually root for the nWo, but on this day of Inoki's retirement, I wanted Hashimoto & Nishimura to win.
Kensuke vs. Fujinami for the IWGP Heavyweight title match. Fujinami's entrace music was the good, old "Dragon Suplex." Everybody in the building was for Fujinami. Responding to the fans, Fujinami won the title with german suplex. I was secretly hoping Fujinami was going to use the dragon suplex hold. It didn't happen, but I was so happy with Fujinami's victory.

The Entrance

The past famous scenes were shown on the aurora vision. Breaking Singh's arm, german suplex on Strong Kobayashi, and diving knee drop on Hansen. Some people creamed when the infamous scene of Hogan's axe bomber was shown.
First, Don Frye enters of course with a big booing. Then, with the music "Ali Bom-Ba-Ye," Muhammad Ali in tuxedo shows up and lights the "Olympic Torch" by the entrance gate. Finally, "Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye" was played for Inoki's entrance. The voltage of 70,000 people reached the highest. The Fighting Spirit gown was white with red edges. Inoki is jogging through the aisle. Hashimoto was opening the ropes.

Retirement Match
The bell of the destiny was rang at 8:26pm. Frye starts giving punches. Inoki gives a suddent front rolling kick. They go into the ground moves after Frye's suplex. Inoki has advantage over Frye when it comes to the mat wrestling. Inoki easily reverses Frye's heel hold with a same hold. Fyre, in panic, escapes to the rope. After reversing Inoki's vicious sleeper hold, Frye gets on a mount position for punches. However, Inoki reverses for the mount position to gve punches to Frye. When they were about to getting apart, Inoki throws a vicious kick into Frye's face. Frye stands up, and then, Inoki immediately gives him an enzuigiri and bow-pulling straight punches. Around this time, the exciement of "the past" came back. At 4'09", Inoki put a cobra twist (abdominal stretch) into the ground to make Frye give up. Cobra twist was a finishing move in Inoki's younger days. It is in fact effective enough for a finisher.

Retirement Ceremony

Some presents from press and other people in the business including Mr. Sakurai of Tokyo Sports Newspaper. The Rikidozan gown was given to Inoki by the JWA aluimni. Wrestlers of New Japan got on the ring, and each gave flowers to Inoki. Nishimura, who gave the flower at the end, received the famous slapping from Inoki. Then, the guests came in. Willem Ruska, Bob Backlund, Yuri Albachakov, Jeff Platonick, Andy Hug, Eric Bischoff, Killer Khan, Animal Hamaguchi, Gen'ichiro Tenryu, Akira Maeda, Riki Choshu, Tatsumi Fujinami, and Seiji Sakaguchi came to the ring and shook hands with Inoki. Maeda was whispering something to Inoki for a while as Inoki nodding with smile. They say they want the conversation secret.

Finally, Muhammad Ali came to the ring. Inoki did a boxing pause with smile. Ali gives flowers to Inoki and shakes hand. Then, they hugged each other tight.
Ali's representative read the message. "It was 1976 when I fought Antonio Inoki at the Budokan. In the ring, we were tough opponents. After that, we built love and friendship with mutual respect. So, I feel little lonely that Antonio Inoki retires. However, it is my honor to standing on the ring with my good friend Antonio Inoki after 22 years. Our future is bright and has a clear vision. Antonio Inoki and I will put the best effort for the world peace through sports to prove there is only one mankind beyond the sexual, ethinical, or cultural differences. It is my pleasure to come here today."

Narration by Ichiro Furutachi, the legendary television announcer for New Japan: "Antonio Inoki, the fighting traveller, is now standing by himself in the ring with no opponent. Thiking back the 38 years of puroresu life. It was always a jouney for him, and Inoki's spirit was always on a journey. Avoiding the safe places, going straight through toughness to find an exit, always searching for the new steps, starting New Japan from nothing, having strong style matches against world's champions, wrestling against top Japanese stars, fighting for the top martial artist of the world, I.W.G.P, Ganryujima, releasing the hostage from Iraq, folfyt hold on the Congress, and evil sleeper hold. His life was without an insurance but constantly burning the bad things. From which direction is Inoki trying to catch this snake from now on? What fighting scene is in each fan's mind? Inoki's duty was to simulate the inner struggle which every human being has in the ring. However, at this moment, Inoki is disappearing from the ring. How do we keep the fire burning from now on? The end of century is so rich with materials. The end of century is so happy with commercialism. With a lot of information and poor souls, people forgot how to fight by themselves. We can no longer rely on the Fighting Spirit to wonder around the desert of time. Today, we have to be independent from Inoki. With pieces of the Fighting Spirit, it's our term to go on a journey. The Fighting Spirit is on a chain. A boy was born on 1943/2/20 in Tsurumi. Kanji Inoki. A burning seed of the Fighting Spirit. It was our honor to keep watching you. Thanks to the Burning Fighting Spirit. Arigato, Antonio Inoki!"

Inoki greets. "I'm now standing in a emotional, impressive, beautiful space. I can't stop the appreciation coming from deep my mind to everyone. It has been a very long time since my Final Count Down started. Finally, today is the last of my appearance in this gown. Thinking back an old day, a young man who didn't know which was left or right was brought back from Brazil by Rikidozan. 38 years have passed since then. When I first stood in the ring, I was so excited and nervous, but today, I can't express my feeling in front of the big crowd like this. Someday, I started righting Fighting Spirit on the autographs. Then, someone named me the Burning Fighting Spirit. I think the Fighting Spirit means to defeat one's self and polish one's own soul through fighting. Finally, I would like to send a message to everyone. One starts getting old when he stop his steps and gives up the challenges. Don't fear what happens if you keep going on this road. With fear, there will be no road. If you give one step, the step becomes a road. Go on without fear, then you will find out. Thank you!"

Immediately followed by the 10 counts. Inoki walked away on the aisle with "Destiny" by Beethoven. At the entrance gate, there was a big screen with the picture of a coloseum in the aicient Rome. Inoki stopped in front of the gate and did "ichi, ni, san, daaahhh!" It was a chorus of 70,000 people. With "Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye," the finale has finally come.


World Martial Arts Association is renamed UFO (Universal Fighting-arts Organization) with Muhammad Ali as the President of Honor. The plan is to start around the fall in India. The future plan includes the cards in China and the U.S..
Strange enough, I wasn't sad at all. I guess Inoki as a wrestler had already finished in my mind. It was probably the same for many Inoki-ists. I was not feeling loneliness at all. It was rather a graduation from New Japan than a retirement.
Some newspapers reported it as a retirement in Japan. Rumors say that he would come back anyway. However, in Inoki's mind and Inoki-ists minds, Inoki as a wrestler was finished long time ago. Whether wrestling in the ring or not, Inoki is Inoki. I will continue to support Inoki in the future.

THE FINAL INOKI TOURNAMENT: 1st Round (1998/3/22 Aichi Prefecture Gym)

Open Sparring
  Antonio Inoki vs. Nobuaki Kakuta

Inoki was wearing a black short tights with his usual ring shoes and New Japan gown. "Fighter of the Fire" was also played.
The sparring was with no referee and no time limit against Kakuta of Seido Kaikan karate. Kakuta showed seiken punches and kicks, and Inoki showed slappings and achilles' tendon hold. It was a 4minutes 30seconds with a heat like an actual match.

Naoya Ogawa (5'15" cross arm scissors) Dave Beneteau
Don Frye (5'11" KO) Kazuo Yamazaki
Brian Johnston (7'49" TKO) Yoshiaki Fujiwara
Igor Meindart (6'33" KO) Kazuyuki Fujita

Progress to the Retirement

1997/12/27 Report on Inoki's retirement

Television and newspapers reported Inoki's retirement. The following is an article from Tokyo Sports Newspaper:

Antonio Inoki decided to retire formally. The final match is taking place in New Japan's Tokyo Dome card on April 4th next year.
"My retirement? It's already over, you know!", says Inoki, who was worrying more than anybody about his unclear situation during the Final Count Down Series.
One of the reasons is probably because New Japan will not need Inoki for every big card like it always did especially after Choshu retires and concentrates on booking. Of course, he is physically reaching the limit as an active wrestler. Also, his long time dream "World Martial Arts Association" may realize with the connection the satellite television stations.
"Personally, I don't mind retiring right now. However, there people known as the Inoki-ists, and I want to express my thanking those people," said Inoki after the Sapporo card on July 6th. Tokyo Dome on April 4th is chosen as the place.
Possible opponents are former world heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, the strongest jujutsu fighter Rickson Gracie, Naoya Igawa, Shin'ya Hashimoto.
After retirement, Inoki concentrates to be a producer for the World Martial Arts Association, but he will probably run for the senate next June.
By the way, the official announcement will be made by Inoki himself at Tokyo Dome on January 4th next year.

At this point, the articles said that Inoki's retirement seemed to be finalized, but they were not the official announcement from Inoki's side.
I myself was already ready for Inoki's retirement and thought the time has come. I knew I couldn't expect the good fight like the past, and whether being in the ring or not, Inoki was always Inoki to me. Whatever Inoki does, it gives us a dream, and I will continue to support Inoki anyway.
To see Inoki in the ring today, I had a mixed emotion with pleasure and loneliness, but the pleasure was bigger after all. However, everything has the beginning and end. If Inoki is preparing the occasion to show his apprecation to the fans, nothing is more thankful. This is my oponion on Inoki's retirement.

1998/1/5 Inoki announces retirement from the ring

After Choshu's retirement match, the 5th match New Japan's Tokyo Dome Jaunary 4th card, Inoki got on the ring to greet to the fans and Choshu. He gave a mic to Choshu, who greeted to the fans. Then, after Choshu left, Inoki officially announced his own retirement.

Complete speech of Inoki

"My retirement and Choshu's have been reversed. This year is important for both New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Japan's martial arts culture to expand to the world. In such situation, I will have my last Count Down. On April 4th, I will have the last match here at Tokyo Dome. Please look forward to it. I would like to announce that to everybody here today. I would like to show you a beautiful ending on April 4th here. I'll take challenge from anybody anytime. I would like to say that until the end."

Displayed on the aurora vision were "Inoki retires, April 4th, Tokyo Dome" and the scenes from the famous matches in the past. They also showed that tickets will be on sale at the Nippon Budokan card on Feburary 15th. Background music was an orchestra version of "Fighter of the Fire."
And of course, Inoki finished his speech with "ichi, ni, san, dahhh!"
1998/1/15 Inoki starts preparing for the final match

Fighting Spirit Trio of Inoki, Sayama, and Ogawa gathered the side of Tamagawa river and New Japan Dojo for training on a record-breaking snow day. It was cleared that Ogawa continues to be active as a professional fighter in the World Martial Arts Association. Ogawa also said he wanted to be the opponent for Inoki's retirement match "if the fans would accept." On 16th, Inoki left for Los Angeles for the lonely camping.

1998/1/27 Inoki returns to Japan temporarily

On January 26th, Inoki returned from Los Angeles. Ogawa, who followed Inoki to L.A. to train together was ordered by Inoki to stay in the U.S. alone for more training.
1998/2/9 The opponnent for the retirement match to be determined in a tournament. Ali comes for the event.

It was announced that the opponent was to be determined in a 8-man tournament. Naoya Ogawa and Don Frye show their will to enter the tournament.
It was also announced that Muhammad Ali will be the special guest for the April 4th Tokeo Dome event. By the way, New Japan is planning to have Karl Gotch, Lou Thesz, Dory Funk Jr., and Chota Chochoshvili.
1998/2/15 Inoki brawls with Don Frye

Inoki came to New Japan's Budokan card to greet to the fans before the match between Ogawa and Frye. "I just came from the Narita Airport after a training overseas. I've been conditioning myself so that my comment to accept challallenge from anybody anytime will not end up being a lie." He concluded the speech with the usual "daaah!!!" and watched the match from the broadcasting booth. Ogawa defeated Frye via submission, but Frye attacked Ogawa from behind after the match. Inoki ran in and gave punches to Frye. It caused a big brawl involving Ogawa and others in corners. Inoki took his shirt off, and Inoki and Frye stared each other. The whole building was filled with chanting for Inoki.
Also on the same card, tickets for the April 4th Tokyo Dome card were on sale. In spite of a lot of snow, many people lined up for the ticktes.
1998/2/18 Furutachi as the play-by-play for the retirement match. Flair and Fujiwara show their will to be opponent.

It was announced that the April 4th Tokyo Dome card will be aired on April 6th at 7pm for a two hour time slot. From the old promise between him and Inoki, Ichiro Furutachi comes back to broadcast a pro-wrestling match for the first time in 9 years and half since 1988/8/8 when Inoki and Fujinami had a 60 minute time limit draw.
Also, the first round of the tournament is to be held on March 22nd in Nagoya and semi-finals and the final on April 4th at Tokyo Dome.
Inoki is going on a training camp in Shiga prefecture from Feburary 21st, then to Okinawa from March 5th, and goes to the U.S. on 13th. At the Nagoya card on 22nd, Inoki will have a public sparring.

1998/2/24 Shows sparring with Ogawa. Fujita shows the will

Inoki had a sparring with Ogawa and taught him the choke sleeper. Also, Kazuyuki Fujita of New Japan who was with them requested his entrace to the tournament to Inoki, who accepted it. Gen'ichiro Tenryu, who was rumored to be in the tournament, denied his participartion.

1998/3/2 The first round of the tournament and other matches for the retirement card

Addition to Ogawa, Frye, and Fujita who have already entered to the tournament, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Kazuo yamazaki, Igor Meindart (who fought in PRIDE 1), Brian Johnston, and Dave Beneteau (UFC fighter) have entered to the tournament. Also, for the retirement card, the semi-finals and the final of the tournament and three IWGP title matches have been added.
1998/3/7 Finishing the Okinawa camp

Inoki finished the Okinawa camp with Ogawa. It was a meaningful camp for Ogawa, who had a sparring with the K-1 fighter Andy Hug and also was ordered by Inoki to give a headlock onto a cow at the Anton Farm. Inoki leaves for the L.A. on the 13th for the final conditioning. Ogawa leaves for the Brad Rheingans Dojo in Minneaplis on the 9th with Fujita. Both will return on the 20th, as Inoki will have a public sparring, and Ogawa will wrestle in the first round of the tournament at the New Japan's Aichi card on the 22nd.
1998/3/13 Nobuaki Kauta for the sparring partner on March 22nd

Inoki's sparring partner for the March 22nd Nagoya card will be Nobuaki Kauta of the Seido Kaikan karate.
1998/3/20 Both Inoki and Ogawa return

Inoki and Ogawa returned from the U.S. together. Inoki immediately kept distance from Ogawa as he went to a training gym somewhere in Tokyo. Inoki was to train by himself in the U.S. but suddenly came to the Rheingans Dojo where Ogawa was. However, Inoki kept ignoring Ogawa. Inoki's way of bargaining has already started.
1998/3/25 Ali, Backlund, and Ruska as special guests

The special foreign guests for the retirement card have been announced. Muhammad Ali, Bob Backlund, and Willem Ruska will be coming to Japan.
Also, Inoki injured the right ankle during training, but it seems to be a big problem.
1998/4/2 Eric Bischoff, Yuri Albachakov for additional guests

Addition to Muhammad Ali, Bob Backlund, and Willem Ruska, Eric Bischoff (WCW/nWo president), Jeff Platonick (wrestling gold medalist in the L.A. Olympics), and Yuri Albachakov (former WBC World Flyweight boxing champion) have been announced as special guests. As for Japanese guests, they are planning to have Gen'ichiro Tenryu, Akira Maeda, Killer Khan, Animal Hamaguchi, and Yoshiaki Fujiwara