While MMA is still a young sport in North America and Europe that went through so much controversy during its infancy, its roots are deep in Japan and Brazil. Through the Gracie family which invented Brazilian Jiujitsu, their challenge matches gave birth to Vale Tudo, a Brazilian form of combat sports. In Japan, MMA started towards the end of the eighties and early nineties through promotions such as Shooto and King of Pancrase, which were founded by pro wrestlers.
When these promotions were starting out in Japan, Baki, as in the original manga, was barely making its debut. While the anime recently resumed on Netflix, the manga is still in publication to this very day after nearly 30 years! Since then, who are some characters from the world of Baki that are influenced by those from the world of combat sports? Let’s give you our top 5 examples.
5. Mohammed Alai, Jr. (and Senior) - Muhammad Ali
One notable example viewers can immediately associate is that Mohammed Alai, Jr. (or more technically, his father) is based on one of boxing’s greatest champions, Muhammad Ali. For starters, they look pretty much identical except that Alai is lighter since he’s still a teenager. However, Alai’s fighting style is based on the real Ali with his footwork and using his reach to his advantage. His father is pretty much the same and the Baki series takes into account much of the real-life Ali who couldn’t box for three years due to refusing induction into the US military and how he would develop Parkinson’s syndrome. Last, Baki makes reference to Alai fighting Igari, a pro wrestler in Japan in the 1970’s. This is a reference to when the real-life Ali fought Japanese pro wrestler Antonio Inoki in a boxer vs. wrestler match in the mid-1970s.
4. Doppo Orochi - Mas Oyama
While Alai was introduced towards the end of the first Netflix series, Doppo Orochi has been in the world of Baki since almost day one. Doppo Orochi is the founder of the Shinshinkai Karate, a school with thousands of practitioners throughout Japan. So, who is Orochi based on? He is based on Mas Oyama, the founder of Kyokushinkai Karate, one of the hardest forms of bare-knuckle fighting. Both men are founders of Karate that is full contact and, other than the eye patch with Orochi, they share a likeness, both being big bald men you don’t want to mess with.
In Orochi’s youth, one of his exploits was how he defeated a tiger in hand-to-hand combat. This story is based on how Oyama defeated a bull on Japanese TV in the 1950s by karate chopping its horn off (which you can see on youtube). However, what is omitted with Orochi is how Oyama was actually from South Korea and started his martial arts career when residing in Manchuria before World War II.
3. Biscuit Olivia - Sergio Olivia
For some of you bodybuilding enthusiasts, you can instantly recognize that Biscuit Olivia is based on Sergio Olivia, a three-time Mr. Olympia towards the end of the 1960s (and he is the ONLY man to ever beat Schwarzenegger in a bodybuilding contest). Like the real Sergio Olivia, Biscuit is excellently sculpted and he uses his brute strength alone to defeat his opponents.
When Biscuit fights, he wears trunks like an actual bodybuilder and he poses just like the real Olivia to show off his strength. Not only do his muscles allow him to go toe-to-toe with many of Baki’s greatest warriors, they also make him impervious to bullets, which is inspired by a real-life incident in which Sergio’s wife at the time shot him! The medical professional said his muscles were like armor. Lastly, though Biscuit is officially an inmate, it’s ironic to point out that Sergio served as a Chicago PD officer for 20 years!
2. Kanji Igari - Antonio Inoki
As we mentioned before with Alai, Jr., his father fought pro-wrestler Kanji Igari, and that in turn was based on the real-life fight between Antonio Inoki and Ali. As seen through Yujiro, Inoki fought Ali to a draw by fighting on his back and going for leg kicks (and Ali actually had to go to the hospital!) What’s also ironic is that Inoki’s real name happens to be Kanji, and he got the name Antonio when he resided in Brazil in his youth.
Like the real-life Inoki, Igari has a uniquely shaped jaw, a slick hairstyle, and is an amazing technician. Like Inoki, Igari knows a mix of Japanese striking martial arts and Western grappling to become a complete wrestler. Other than Ali, Inoki also took on other martial artists in shoot fights to show that wrestling is the greatest sport in the world. While this isn’t portrayed in the manga, Inoki switched to politics (long before Jesse Ventura did) and was elected in the upper house of parliament during the 90s.
1. Baki Hanma - Naoyuki Taira
Last, we have Baki, the main character himself. So who was he based on? Takanori Gomi? Shinya Aoki? Hayato Sakurai? That’s impossible because the Baki manga debuted long before they were in their prime! You’ve probably never heard of him, but he is based on Naoyuki Taira, who competed in pro wrestling, kickboxing, and shoot boxing (it’s kickboxing but you can use standing submissions). Today, he trains MMA fighters. When he was starting, cross-training wasn’t popular and during his youth, he was doing a lot of cross-training which inspired Keisuke Itagaki to create Baki. When you compare Baki’s usual fighting stance with Taira’s you can instantly see the similarities along with their kicking techniques.
While some of the names featured here are from history, we have to remember that combat sports as a whole is still in its infancy, most especially with MMA. While boxing, pro wrestling, kickboxing, and MMA are full of figures that we can now call legends (such as Ali in boxing, Inoki in wrestling, Gracie in MMA, and Hug in kickboxing), these sports are still evolving every day.
Considering that the Baki saga is still going on to this day, maybe we’ll be seeing fighters inspired by Manny Pacquiao, John Cena (will we be able to see him?), Ronda Rousey, or Takeru Segawa in the coming years. But beyond those we listed, are there some notable fighters in the history of martial arts you would like to share? If you have any, please give a shout out in the comments!