THE visit of Antonio Inoki — known as Mohammad Hussain after he embraced Islam — to Pakistan has generated quite a stir. The ace Japanese wrestler of yore is on a goodwill visit to celebrate six decades of Pakistan-Japan diplomatic relations. Mr Inoki is accompanied by an entourage of Japanese wrestlers who took part in exhibition matches in Lahore and Peshawar. Many Pakistanis will remember his classic December 1976 bout with local hero Akram Pahalwan. The match, held in Karachi’s National Stadium, was quite the sporting spectacle and telecast live on TV with a running commentary on Radio Pakistan. Inoki was then in his prime; earlier that same year, he had met boxing great Muhammad Ali in a mixed martial arts duel and held the mighty pugilist to a draw.
It was a challenge from Akram that brought Inoki to Karachi. Inoki, who was younger and fitter, made short work of Akram. Though the local wrestler had said he would finish off the Japanese fighter in three rounds, fate would decide otherwise. It was Inoki who — barely into the third round — applied a devastating arm-lock to Akram, which not only dislocated the latter’s shoulder but decided the match in the foreigner’s favour. A brief mélée was witnessed as Akram’s supporters stormed the ring after the shock defeat. As an editorial in this newspaper’s Dec 14, 1976 edition put it: “Akram — the proud scion of the immortal Gama clan — fell before the mighty matman from Japan in the much-vaunted encounter in Karachi...” A few years later, Mr Inoki also wrestled Akram’s relative Jhara. It is good to see M.H. Inoki back in Pakistan. Being a true gentleman, he said he had also come to pay his respects at the graves of Gama and Akram. The visit by the veteran Japanese athlete not only brings back memories of an exciting match, it may also help promote freestyle wrestling in Pakistan.