"In the gym, when they would go for real, Maeda was the man. No one could touch him." "RINGS will declare the strongest man in the world."
—Akira Maeda, declaiming his promotion's philosophy.
(b. 1959 as Go Il-myeong
- he is of Korean descent
, but he kept it secret for a time, until he got naturalized Japanese in 1984) is a Japanese Professional Wrestler
and Mixed Martial Arts
promoter, best known for his role in the Japanese shoot-style wrestling chronicle and posterior MMA boom. Formerly a Kyokushin karate competitor, he debuted in 1978 for New Japan Pro Wrestling
and revealed as a promising rookie, traveling to England to wrestle there under the name of "Kwik-Kick-Lee", in storyline Bruce Lee
's cousin. Eventually he left with Satoru Sayama
, Nobuhiko Takada
and other wrestlers to form Universal Wrestling Federation
, pioneering the realistic shoot movement. However, he caused the fall of the promotion when shot on Sayama during a match due to an early disagreement. Upon their return to New Japan, he and Takada became the young leaders of a shoot invasion, gaining the IWGP Tag Team Championship with him and fellow shooter Osamu Kido. Maeda gained extreme amounts of popularity and was even considered to replace main star Antonio Inoki
, but Inoki vetoed the idea and Maeda left again, not without shooting on another wrestler. After another failed incarnation of UWF, Maeda contacted Russian sambo fighters and Dutch kickboxers and created Fighting Network RINGS, a shoot-style company who derived into full MMA over time. Maeda is currently retired from competition and figures as the head of the resurrected RINGS and an amateur MMA company called The Outsider.
From 2009 to 2010, he was also a candidate to the House of Councillors for the Democratic Party of Japan, following the tradition of Japanese pro wrestlers of dipping in politics.
As usual, you can find the basics at The Other Wiki
"Fighting Network Tropes":
- All of the Other Reindeer: His parents got divorced when he was in highschool and he chose to follow his father, who had a badly paid work. Maeda was often alone and with little money, and suffered bullying for being Korean. For this reason, his first years in the NJPW Dojo weren't much better.
- Arch-Enemy: Has had many in real life.
- The main one is Satoru Sayama. Their hostility started in 1985, when Maeda shot on Sayama during a match and caused the fall of the original UWF. They continued badmouthing each other during years until 2006, when they were reunited in an interview by Hisao Maki and acknowledged (rather grudgingly, but with sincerity) each other's accomplishments. Currently, they seem to have regained respect for each other.
- He also had enmity for Masakatsu Funaki, who badmouthed him for causing the closure of Newborn UWF in 1990. They reconciled in 2005 during the Big Mouth Loud project.
- Yoji Anjo was another enemy of his. In 1994, Akira was arrested for claiming he was going to kill Anjo out of rage for a failed working agreement, and two years later, he backfisted Yoji in the face for disagreeing with him during a televised debate. Not surprisingly, some time later Anjo retaliated by knocking Maeda out cold with a sucker punch during an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.
- Maeda also was enemies with Eiji Yamada, chief editor of the Full Contact Karate magazine who liked to criticize RINGS and the Seidokaikan dojo for being "fake". They supposedly had an incident in a Kyokushin tournament in 1994 in which they brawled inside the women's toilet of the stadium. Details are unknown, but judging for Yamada's comments thereafter, Akira kicked his ass quite a bit.
- There was a years long bad blood between Maeda and Pancrase's Kazuo "Yoshiki" Takahashi. It started after the PRIDE 1 event, when a rumor says Maeda had a brawl with Takahashi in the Tokyo Dome parking which had to be broken up by Yoshihisa Yamamoto. After that, Yoshiki challenged Akira to a fight in Pancrase, but Maeda refused, instead wanting to fight Minoru Suzuki. Yoshiki didn't forget it, and he even shook Yoji Anjo's hand after his attack on Maeda at the UFC.
- In general, Maeda doesn't have much sympathy towards Pancrase. He attacked its chairman Masami Ozaki (a non-fighter) at a hotel when he thought Ozaki was trying to convince RINGS member Jeremy Horn to jump to Pancrase. Ozaki later sued Akira for assault and won the trial, although according to Horn (who even testified for Maeda), Masami exaggerated the incident.
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: He lived it. In fact, he got over among young fans thanks to his rebel, hot-tempered persona. Still, UWF might still be going had Maeda just bit the bullet and agreed to showcase at least one other style of wrestling besides "shoot" or else find a way to get money at least two other non shoot promotions were willing to give.
- The Artifact: Even after the UWF wrestlers abandoned all the theatrical moves, Maeda kept his spinning heel kick to the face, which always got him a big pop. (To be fair, this kick is not impossible to perform in real fighting, but very much like the dropkick, it's simply too impractical).
- Authority Equals Asskicking: As the ace of both incarnations of UWF, his real fighting skills were said to be the highest among his fellow shooters. He could roll with the best sambo players in Russia, had prestige as a karateka, and Ken Shamrock of all people believed he would have been great in MMA.
- Ax-Crazy: In Real Life, he was fired from NJPW for kicking Riki Choshu in the face and breaking his orbital bone. Even later, he didn't have a single year free of legal troubles due to his tendency to assault people. He even vowed to kill Yoji Anjo and was arrested for it.
- Badass Teacher: He trained several wrestlers and fighters, like Kiyoshi Tamura, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Wataru Sakata, Yoshihisa Yamamoto and more.
- Badass Boast: Parodied once. At an interview for Weekly Gong, when he was being asked about Rickson Gracie and his supposed 400-0 record, Maeda jokingly stated that he believed it because his own record was 10000-0. Nowadays, he is still claiming it is true.
- Big Brother Mentor: Towards Masakatsu Funaki.
- Bullying a Dragon: Once Maeda came against five American soldiers from the Roppongi military base, who were sitting in Akira's car and started taunting him with racist slurs. Predictably, Maeda's response was wiping the floor alone with the four guys (the fifth one wisely backed away) and make them swear not to make fun of Japanese people again.
- Captain Ersatz: Fire Pro Wrestling started including these of him with Combination Tag in 1989. He also appeared in the videogame Saikyou: Takada Nobuhiko under the name of "Hishida".
- Catch Phrase: "Sekai saikyo no otoko wa RINGS ga kimeru rashii!" ("RINGS will declare the strongest man in the world!"). It was pretty much his promotion's motto.
- Challenge Seeker:
- Like more or less everybody at the time, Maeda challenged Rickson Gracie several times, even proposing to create a new MMA event for them if Rickson didn't want to fight in RINGS, but the Brazilian turned all them down.
- During his adolescence, Maeda had some weird obsession for fighting Hiroshi Wajima (a former grand sumo champion turned pro wrestler, who also innovated the chokeslam). He admitted that Wajima used to scare him as a child when he watched him wrestle.
- He also wanted the NJPW to send him to United States to fight Benny Urquídez.
- Combat Pragmatist: When talking about self-defense, Maeda could rival Bas Rutten's ruthlessness, as shown in this short instructional. He even nails a hair pull hip throw at some point.
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority: The reason behind his popularity (and his fall from NJPW).
- Cool vs. Awesome: Brought Alexander Karelin to RINGS to enforce the trope after not being able to bring Rickson Gracie.
- Cultured Badass: Likes reading the likes of Confucius, Paul Verlaine and Osamu Dazai.
- David Versus Goliath: In an infamous instance, he was pitted against an inebriated André the Giant, who was completely uncooperative. Maeda's response was shoot kicking his legs until flooring him.
- Dented Iron: Long before his retirement, Maeda's body had broken down after years of fighting. He required a hand from the young fighters to walk back to the locker room and was always limping. Even so, he tried to fight Rickson Gracie to avenge Takada's loss.
- For a time, he was the most popular wrestler in Japan. Like Shinya Hashimoto afterwards, Maeda could literally pack up an arena with just his presence at the event.
- Proved at PRIDE 1 when the crowd gave him the biggest roar of the night just for being briefly featured in the titantron. During a event that had Nobuhiko Takada and Rickson Gracie, that is.
- '80s Hair: Came disturbingly close to a mullet at times.
- Finishing Move: Cross armbar, capture suplex (also named Captured or Akira Special), kneebar, and kick to the head.
- Follow the Leader: Aside his shoot and MMA pioneering, Maeda was the first in bringing sambo and kickboxing to Japan, and his fighting network helped to spread the MMA around the world, including countries in which the concept itself was virtually unknown. Finally, was the one who inspired Kazuyoshi Ishii to create the kickboxing promotion K-1 and provided him with kickboxers from RINGS who he couldn't pay anymore.
- Freudian Trio: The Id to Nobuhiko Takada's Ego and Satoru Sayama's Superego.
- Groin Attack: Delivered some to Satoru Sayama in their last match, or so said Sayama.
- Guile Hero: Despite his general jerkness, Akira was good with people. He even persuaded Masutatsu Oyama to allow karatekas Willie Williams and Masaaki Satake to compete in RINGS.
- Hard Head: Which Kazuo Yamazaki learned the hard way when he tried to get out of a capture suplex by headbutting Maeda. Kazuo busted himself open with his own headutt and the match had to be stopped.
- Heroes Gone Fishing: Literally. Maeda loves fishing.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Maeda became closed friends with Nobuhiko Takada in the NJPW dojo. The duo became distanced after the fall of UWF Newborn, as they took separate and frequently opposing ways, but they were not against doing press conferences together once in a while.
- I Know Karate: A Kyokushin Budokai eighth dan black belt. He has a black belt in Shorinji Kempo too.
- Jerkass: At least a bit.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Collects katanas, among other antiques. Also, his first theme song was called "Katana".
- Kick the Dog:
- Is the perpetrator of the most known traitorous kicks in professional wrestling, one to Satoru Sayama's groin and another to Riki Choshu's eye.
- He also slapped Mitsuya Nagai after one of his most important matches, ruining his victory. It was because Nagai had told to the press that he was a pro wrestler before a fighter, when Maeda had been insisting that RINGS was unrelated to pro wrestling at all.
- In 2007, Maeda was appointed to present Kiyoshi Tamura the trophy for his match against Hideo Tokoro, but he instead violently shoved it into his chest, still angry for Tamura leaving RINGS in bad terms in 2001.
- Kick Them While They Are Down: Riki Choshu suffered a bone-cracking kick from Maeda when he was busy sharpshooting Osamu Kido.
- Military Brat: Subverted. As a child, one of his solaces was reading military literature, and years after he tried to join the JSDF, but he couldn't as he was not yet a naturalized Japanese.
- Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Maeda realized it, so he promoved to bring sambo fighters to Japan, and the fighting world rejoiced.
- Mr. Fanservice: Not to the extent of his comrade Takada, of course, but Maeda had a large female fanbase as well. Joshi wrestler Akira Hokuto was among them.
- Never Be Hurt Again: A rumor has that, while in the New Japan Dojo, Maeda was often bullied by other students due to his Korean ancestry, until one day his trainer Bad News Brown told him to fight back without doubt the next time he was harassed. He indeed took it for the rest of his career.
- Odd Friendship: Is friends with famous writer Amy Yamada. Not so odd as it could look, given that the two appear to share a penchant for controversy.
- Parental Abandonment: His father left his family when Akira was in high school.
- Rebel Leader: During the shoot invasion in NJPW.
- Red Baron: "Kowashiya" ("Destroyer") and "Shin Kakuto O" ("The New King of Fighting"; the former being Inoki, of course). He was also referred by more creative journalists as "Kick no Senjukannon" ("The Multi-Armed God of Kicking"; yeah, a bit counter-intuitive).
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Nobuhiko Takada's blue. They even wore ring robes Colour-Coded for Your Convenience while in NJPW.
- Rolling Attack: His patented abisegiri kick, which is even his finisher in the videogame RINGS Astral Bout 3.
- Sadist Teacher: The tradition among shoot-style trainers. He once brutalized his trainee Wataru Sakata in front of a TV reporter for the sole reason that Sakata had not impressed him during a match.
- Serious Business: After a failed agreement between RINGS and UWF International, Maeda publicly vowed to kill Anjo and was swiftly arrested.
- Start My Own: UWF Newborn (with Shinji Jin), Fighting Network RINGS and The Outsider.
- Suplex Finisher: Capture Suplex, also known as Captured or Akira Special.
- Unrelated Brothers: When they wrestled for England's World Of Sport, Satoru Sayama went as "Sammy Lee" and Maeda as "Kwik-Kick-Lee", being kayfabe brothers (and cousins of Bruce Lee, nothing less).
- Unstoppable Rage: Whether you are a wrestler, a fighter, a reporter, or even his wife, accept our advice: if Akira Maeda gets angry on you, run away and don't look back.
- He supposedly coined "sōgō kakutōgi", the term used in Japan for MMA.
- Maeda also innovated the abisegiri or rolling heel kick, which was later adopted by Jushin Liger.
- Worked Shoot: Maeda has a MMA record in Sherdog, but he actually never did legit MMA, as he was too broken down to fight and was too important for RINGS' image to risk his popularity in such a dangerous world.
- Yakuza: Actively cultivates a yakuza image for himself and his ventures, and it's rumored he has contacts (and even worse, enemies) among yakuza corporations. This has brought him some trouble, to the extent of losing TV contracts and being attacked by yakuza members at an Outsider event.