No, the picture above has not been Photoshopped. Amid the breathless commentaries of potential constitutional revisions (unlikely) and the future of Abenomics (unclear), an unjustly overlooked aspect of Japan’s Upper House election is the return to the parliament of Antonio Inoki aka Inoki Kanji aka Muhammad Hussain. The former professional wrestler who once fought Muhammad Ali to a draw in an exhibition match originally entered the Japanese parliament in the late 1980s as the standard bearer of the Sports for Peace Party.
In the run-up to the First Gulf War, Diet member Inoki visited Bagdad to meet Saddam Hussein and negotiate the release of 39 Japanese hostages who were being held as human shields. (Saddam reportedly presented him with two golden swords.) He converted to Islam (he says that he also practices Buddhism) and took the name Muhammad Hussain.
In the mid-1990s he lost his Diet seat amid allegations of bribery by yakuza. But he kept the diplomatic outreach going, with North Korea as a particular focus. Inoki was an acolyte of Korean-born wrestling icon Rikidozan, whose son-in-law is reputedly a member of the National Defense Commission. In 1995, he organized the “Wrestling Festival for Peace” in Pyongyang where he wrestled “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair in the “Collision in Korea.” More than 100,000 spectators must have really enjoyed watching weird Americans and Japanese beat each other silly. I can only wonder what OFAC made of Flair’s involvement. Inoki was subsequently feted by the Kim regime and when spotted in the audience at the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers Party, the Asahi Shimbun reported that it was his 21st visit to the DPRK. According to the Wall Street Journal, Inoki has proven to be a reasonably reliable source of information about internal developments in North Korea.
Now he has been re-elected to the Diet (this time on the slate of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party) he says he’s ready to go back to North Korea, “focusing on diplomatic issues.” Maybe he can team up with Dennis Rodman. The Worm twice climbed into the ring with Hulk Hogan to take on Lex Luther and the Giant. I’m sure he can wrestle a septuagenarian and free some hostages at the same time. Collision in Korea 2?