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Wrestling Legend Antonio Inoki Saved Hostages From Infamous Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein, Here’s How

Published 10/01/2022, 10:54 AM EDT

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Antonio Inoki was a pioneer in the pro wrestling industry. He created several milestones along the way as he progressed. Inoki passed away on 1st October 2022, leaving behind a series of records, achievements, and legacy. Regarded as one of the greatest pro wrestlers and politicians, Inoki was a loved and well-respected legend.

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His death news came as a shock and the news completely took aback the wrestling universe. Born Kanji Inoki, he was popular as Antonio Inoki because of his International presence and diverse career. A WWE Hall of Famer, Inoki also faced the likes of legends like Ric Flair and Muhammad Ali in his career.


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A great politician, Inoki was known for following the path of peace for a long time. Inoki founded NJPW, and throughout his career, he has been a wrestler, a mixed martial artist, a businessman, and a politician. Not popularly known, but Inoki is also credited for securing the release of several Japanese living in Iraq, just before the start of the Gulf war.

Before the Gulf War began in 1990, Saddam Hussein arrested and held hostage around 100 Japanese families living in Iraq. He arrested the Japanese and used them as human shields. Hussein invaded Kuwait and kept the foreigners hostage to prevent bombardment in his country. During that time, Inoki was serving in the House of Councilors.

Negotiations between the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the Iraqi Government hardly yielded any results. And it was Inoki who took charge of securing the release of the Japanese people. His legacy and reputation as an athlete made him lead the negotiations. Inoki approached the Iraqi Government as a representative of the Japanese people, and not the State. During this time, he traveled to Iraq three times between September and December 1990.

On September 2nd, women (wives of the men held hostage) and children were freed and returned to Japan. Several petitions were sent to the Iraqi Government requesting the release of the remaining hostages to no avail.

How did Antonio Inoki secure the release of the remaining hostages?

The crisis lasted for several months. Japanese news broadcasters showed Inoki running around the streets of Baghdad, wearing tiny white shorts and a white t-shirt, while later suiting up to meet Uday Hussein. However, it was only the beginning of the path of rescuing the remaining hostages.

He was the first Japanese man admitted to the Karbala mosque. Soon, news segments started going around, showing him engaging in a prayer session with his hands raised and facing the sky. He even had two goat sacrifices in his name. He learned how to pray and become a Muslim. Here, he received the name, ‘Muhammad Hussain’.


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Inoki would also organize peace festivals with Japanese wrestling matches, traditional taiko drummers, a rock concert, soccer, basketball, karate, and judo exhibitions at Saddam Arena. Before the sports festival, Inoki traveled to Baghdad with 46 members of the family kept hostage.

However, after the festival was over, Inoki was supposed to return home, but the 46 members stayed in Iraq. While Inoki traveled to the airport, a letter he had written made its way to Saddam Hussein. Soon, orders came in and requested Inoki to stay in Iraq a little longer, to which. Inoki agreed.


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The very next day, Inoki, the hostages, and the family members met with Uday Hussein, the then Sports Minister. He apologized for keeping the Japanese hostage for so long and allowed their release. The peace festival created a knot, which was tough to untie, and created the path for a peaceful release of the hostages.

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Written by:

Shounak Chakrabarti


One take at a time

Shounak Chakrabarti is WWE writer at EssentiallySports. With a degree in Journalism, he wants to stand tall as an objective journalist. An avid fan of wrestling from childhood, Shounak has followed the sport from its very core and Seth 'Freakin' Rollins just happens to be his favorite wrestler.
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Edited by:

Sreeda U M