The passing of a legend
Mixed Martial Arts and the Man who started it all.
Kim Il, Korea’s Original Mixed Martial Artist, Passes Away at the age of 79.
Korean Pro Wrestling Association President Kim Il, was one of the top pro wrestlers in the world from the 1950s to 1970s. He held over 30 championship titles during his career.
Kim Il’s many accomplishments include:
1956 Moved to Japan and changed his name to Kintaro Oki to fight in No Rules matches
1957 Became a wrestling student at the Yokdosan Dojang.
1958 Became the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavy Weight Champion
1963 Became the World Wrestling Association World Heavy Weight Champion
1964 Became the North American Heavy Weight Champion
1965 Won the No Rule Fighting Tournament in Seoul, South Korea
1966 Became the All Asia Heavy Weight Champion of the NWA
1967 Defended his heavy weight title in 23 countries without defeat
1972 Became the International Heavy Weight Champion
1994 Became president of the Korean Pro Wrestling Association
1995 Became affiliated with the All Japan Pro Wrestling Association
2000 Opened the KPWA training center in Seoul, South Korea with Lee, Whang Pyo
Born 1928 in ChungNam Korea, the son of a farmer, Kim Il grew up to became a hero to the Korean people when he defeated a Japanese wrestler named Antonio Inoki in 1958 to become the World Wrestling Champion.
Kim Il learned to wrestle from a former sumo wrester turned pro wrestler named Kim Sin-Nak, know in Japan as Mitsuhiro Momato but wrestled under the name Rikidozan. Because of the discrimination against Koreans by the Japanese at that time, Kim Il worked under the name Kintaro Oki.
In the 1960s and 1970s he was known in Korea as The Tiger Kim Il because of his fierce fighting spirit. In Japan he was nick named The Bear because of his great physical strength and his “BakJiGi” Head butting technique.
He was so famous and popular that there were comic books written about him. He appeared on many TV and Radio shows and was followed by children and fans wherever he would go.
Although he was Korean, he became a favorite with Japanese fans because of his amazing grappling skills. He taught many Japanese wrestlers and would become world champion after defeating one of his former students, Antonio Inoki. At the time Inoki was one of the most feared fighters in the world who was considered the father of mixed martial arts in Japan and because internationally famous for his mixed martial arts match with World Heavy Weight Boxing Champion Mohammad Ali. The special referee for that match was “Judo Gene Labell”.
In 1956 when Kim Il arrived in Japan he had a lot of trouble dealing with the hatred of the Japanese people and would often be involved in street fights. He gained a reputation as a tough fighter and would often fight for money in “pick up” fights. He was jailed after nearly killing a Japanese fighter in one of these fights. Kim Sin-Nak, known as Rikidozan posted bail to get the Korean fighter, Kim Il out of jail. Kim Il then moved to the Yokdosan Dojang to begin training with Rikidozan.
Just one year later he would be given an opportunity to fight the World Heavy Weight Wrestling Champion, Antonio Inoki. He had one of the most successful wrestling careers in history having won over 3,000 matches, fighting in 23 countries around the world.
In September 1973 Kim Il (Kintaro Oki) and Kim Sin-Nak (Rikidozan) went to Los Angeles, California to wrestle in a tournament for the World Wrestling Association Heavy Weight Championship. Kim Il was the winner of this tournament.
During his 41 year long career he fought over 3,000 matches and won 20 different championships. He had trained over 200 students to the level of professional wrestler. His two most famous students were Lee Whang Pyo who became the WWA World Heavy Weight Champion and international superstar Rick Love who appeared in over 200 episodes of the TV Wrestling show in Korea and Japan. Lee Whang Pyo is currently the KPWA Heavy Weight Champion training mixed martial arts fighters for the Ultra Fighting Championship Tournaments in Korea. Rick Love retired from wrestling in 1990 to pursue a career in martial arts.
Kim Il was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago and his health had steadily declined until his death. Because he knew that he did not have long to live he tried to make friends with his long time enemy Chang Young Chul. Their matches were famous because they would often battle out of the ring and up into the crowd hitting each other with chairs and anything that they could get their hands on. Several times, both fighters would end up in the hospital after their matches.
February 8th 2006, the two men met for the first time in nearly 41 years to shake hands and put their feud behind them. Chon Dok Kyu was appointed to become president of the KPWA because of Kim Il’s declining health.
On October 26th 2007, in his home, surrounded by friends, Korea’s original mixed martial arts master passed away leaving a legacy that will be respected by many generations to come.
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