The Most Famous

WRESTLERS from Japan

Icon of occuation in country

This page contains a list of the greatest Japanese Wrestlers. The pantheon dataset contains 1,027 Wrestlers, 78 of which were born in Japan. This makes Japan the birth place of the 2nd most number of Wrestlers.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Japanese Wrestlers of all time. This list of famous Japanese Wrestlers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Japanese Wrestlers.

Photo of Antonio Inoki

1. Antonio Inoki (1943 - 2022)

With an HPI of 62.55, Antonio Inoki is the most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 31 different languages on wikipedia.

Muhammad Hussain Inoki (born Kanji Inoki (Japanese: 猪木寛至, Hepburn: Inoki Kanji); February 20, 1943 – October 1, 2022) was a Japanese professional wrestler, martial artist, politician, and promoter of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. He was best known by the ring name Antonio Inoki (アントニオ猪木, Antonio Inoki), a homage to fellow professional wrestler Antonino Rocca. Inoki was a twelve-time professional wrestling world champion, notably being the first IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the first Asian WWF Heavyweight Champion – a reign not officially recognized by WWE. After spending his adolescence in Brazil, Inoki began his professional wrestling career in the 1960s for the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA) under the tutelage of Rikidōzan. Inoki quickly became one of the most popular stars in the history of Japanese professional wrestling. He parlayed his wrestling career into becoming one of Japan's most recognizable athletes, a reputation bolstered by his 1976 fight against world champion boxer Muhammad Ali – a fight that served as a predecessor to modern day mixed martial arts. In 1995, with Ric Flair, Inoki headlined two shows in North Korea that drew 165,000 and 190,000 spectators, the highest attendances in professional wrestling history. Inoki wrestled his retirement match on April 4, 1998, against Don Frye and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. Inoki began his promoting career in 1972, when he founded New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW). He remained the owner of NJPW until 2005 when he sold his controlling share in the promotion to the Yuke's video game company. In 2007, he founded the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF). In 2017, Inoki founded ISM and the following year left IGF. He was also a co-creator of the karate style Kansui-ryū (寛水流) along with Matsubayashi-ryū master Yukio Mizutani. In 1989, while still an active wrestler, Inoki entered politics as he was elected to the Japanese House of Councillors. During his first term with the House of Councillors, Inoki successfully negotiated with Saddam Hussein for the release of Japanese hostages before the outbreak of the Gulf War. His first tenure in the House of Councillors ended in 1995, but he was reelected in 2013. In 2019, Inoki retired from politics.

Photo of Masahiko Kimura

2. Masahiko Kimura (1917 - 1993)

With an HPI of 60.87, Masahiko Kimura is the 2nd most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Masahiko Kimura (木村 政彦, Kimura Masahiko, September 10, 1917 – April 18, 1993) was a Japanese judoka and professional wrestler who is widely considered the greatest judoka of all time. He won the All-Japan Judo Championships three times in a row for the first time in history and had never lost a judo match from 1936 to 1950. In submission grappling, the reverse ude-garami arm lock is often called the "Kimura", due to his famous victory over Gracie jiu-jitsu co-founder Hélio Gracie. In the Japanese professional wrestling world, he is known for being one of Japan's earliest stars and the controversial match he had with Rikidōzan.

Photo of Giant Baba

3. Giant Baba (1938 - 1999)

With an HPI of 55.91, Giant Baba is the 3rd most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Shohei Baba (馬場 正平, Baba Shōhei, January 23, 1938 – January 31, 1999), best known by his ring name Giant Baba (ジャイアント馬場, Jaianto Baba), was a Japanese professional wrestler, promoter, and professional baseball player. He is best known as a co-founder of All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), a promotion he founded in 1972 along with Mitsuo Momota and Yoshihiro Momota, the sons of his mentor Rikidōzan. For the first 10 years of its existence, Baba was the top star of All-Japan, while also serving as the booker, promoter, head trainer and president of the promotion from its inception in 1972 till his death in 1999. Baba was also responsible for recruiting much of the talent for All Japan, and was the public face of the promotion for much of his lifetime. Considered one of the most beloved Japanese wrestlers ever, Baba was a national hero with a level of popularity in Japan comparable to that of Hulk Hogan in the United States. The 2006 Top 100 Historical Persons in Japan survey ranked Baba the 93rd greatest person in the history of Japan, as voted for by the general public. Among his many accomplishments, Baba was a record seven-time winner of the Champion Carnival, a four-time PWF World Heavyweight Champion, three time NWA International Heavyweight Champion and a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion.

Photo of Isao Inokuma

4. Isao Inokuma (1938 - 2001)

With an HPI of 54.25, Isao Inokuma is the 4th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.

Isao Inokuma (猪熊 功, Inokuma Isao, February 4, 1938 – September 28, 2001) was a Japanese judoka. He won a gold medal in the heavyweight division (above 80 kg) at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and a world title in 1965.

Photo of Chiyonofuji Mitsugu

5. Chiyonofuji Mitsugu (1955 - 2016)

With an HPI of 51.54, Chiyonofuji Mitsugu is the 5th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 27 different languages.

Chiyonofuji Mitsugu (Japanese: 千代の富士 貢, June 1, 1955 – July 31, 2016), born Mitsugu Akimoto (秋元 貢, Akimoto Mitsugu), was a Japanese professional sumo wrestler and the 58th yokozuna of the sport. Following his retirement as a wrestler, he was the stable master of Kokonoe stable until the time of his death. Chiyonofuji was considered one of the greatest yokozuna of recent times, winning 31 yūshō or tournament championships, second at the time only to Taihō. He was particularly remarkable for his longevity in sumo's top rank, which he held for a period of ten years from 1981 to 1991. Promoted at the age of twenty-six after winning his second championship, his performance improved with age, winning more tournaments in his thirties than any other wrestler and dominating the sport in the second half of the 1980s. He finally retired in May 1991, just short of his thirty-sixth birthday. During his 21-year professional career, Chiyonofuji set records for most career victories (1045) and most wins in the top makuuchi division (807), earning an entry in the Guinness World Records. Both of these records were later broken by Kaiō. He won the Kyushu tournament, one of the six annual honbasho, a record eight consecutive years from 1981 until 1988, and also set the record for the longest postwar run of consecutive wins (53 bouts in 1988). That record stood for 22 years until Hakuhō broke it with his 54th straight win in September 2010. In a sport where weight is often regarded as vital, Chiyonofuji was quite light at around 120 kg (260 lb). He relied on superior technique and muscle to defeat opponents. He was the lightest yokozuna since Tochinoumi in the 1960s. Upon his retirement he became an elder of the Japan Sumo Association and became the Kokonoe-oyakata the following year.

Photo of Yasuhiro Yamashita

6. Yasuhiro Yamashita (b. 1957)

With an HPI of 51.22, Yasuhiro Yamashita is the 6th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

Yasuhiro Yamashita (山下 泰裕, Yamashita Yasuhiro, born 1 June 1957) is a Japanese judoka. He currently works as an instructor or advisor for numerous organizations, including Tokai University, the International Judo Federation, and the All Japan Judo Federation. He retired from competitive judo on 17 June 1985 after a remarkable career where he won five gold medals in international competitions and marked 203 consecutive victories (with 7 draws in-between) until his retirement where he went undefeated his entire career against non-Japanese wrestlers. He received the Japanese National Prize of Honor on 9 October 1984. He is considered the greatest judoka ever.

Photo of Shozo Sasahara

7. Shozo Sasahara (1929 - 2023)

With an HPI of 49.39, Shozo Sasahara is the 7th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 16 different languages.

Shozo Sasahara (笹原 正三, Sasahara Shōzō, July 28, 1929 – March 5, 2023) was a Japanese freestyle wrestler who won a world title in 1954 and an Olympics gold medal in 1956. He was the flag bearer for Japan at the 1956 Games. During his career Sasahara won approximately 200 bouts. After retiring from competitions he worked as a national coach. His trainees included Osamu Watanabe. Sasahara is credited with having designed "bound tennis" in 1980, which is a form of tennis played on a small-sized court. In 1981 he became the founding president of the Japan Bound Tennis Association. Between 1989 and 2003 Sasahara was president of Japan Wrestling Association. For many years he also served as Vice-President of United World Wrestling (FILA), and was later named its Honorary Vice-president. In 2006 he was inducted to the FILA International Wrestling Hall of Fame. Sasahara died on March 5, 2023, at the age of 93.

Photo of Shinobu Sekine

8. Shinobu Sekine (1943 - 2018)

With an HPI of 48.48, Shinobu Sekine is the 8th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  Her biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Shinobu Sekine (関根 忍, Sekine Shinobu, 20 September 1943 – 18 December 2018) was a Japanese middleweight judoka. He won a gold medal at his only Olympics in 1972.

Photo of Osamu Watanabe

9. Osamu Watanabe (1940 - 2022)

With an HPI of 47.67, Osamu Watanabe is the 9th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Osamu Watanabe (渡辺 長武, Watanabe Osamu, October 21, 1940–October 1, 2022) was a Japanese freestyle wrestler. In 1962, he debuted internationally and retired shortly after the 1964 Olympics. During his brief career Watanabe won all his few hundred bouts. He is considered one of the best wrestlers in Olympic history. In the early 2000s Watanabe resumed competing internationally in the masters category. He died of a heart attack on October 1, 2022.

Photo of Takehide Nakatani

10. Takehide Nakatani (b. 1941)

With an HPI of 47.31, Takehide Nakatani is the 10th most famous Japanese Wrestler.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Takehide Nakatani (中谷 雄英, Nakatani Takehide, born 9 July 1941) is a retired judoka who won the first gold medal ever awarded in judo at the Summer Olympics as the Japanese competitor in the lightweight division (‍–‍68 kg).

People

Pantheon has 88 people classified as Japanese wrestlers born between 1895 and 2000. Of these 88, 73 (82.95%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living Japanese wrestlers include Yasuhiro Yamashita, Takehide Nakatani, and Asuka. The most famous deceased Japanese wrestlers include Antonio Inoki, Masahiko Kimura, and Giant Baba. As of April 2024, 10 new Japanese wrestlers have been added to Pantheon including Shozo Sasahara, Osamu Watanabe, and Atsuji Miyahara.

Living Japanese Wrestlers

Go to all Rankings

Deceased Japanese Wrestlers

Go to all Rankings

Newly Added Japanese Wrestlers (2024)

Go to all Rankings

Overlapping Lives

Which Wrestlers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 10 most globally memorable Wrestlers since 1700.