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Wrestling / Akira Maeda

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"At the peak of his popularity in 1989, Maeda was considered more like a major rock star rather than a wrestler, but was also respected like one of the country's major athletic heroes. The books written about him weren't in the section with books on wrestlers like Antonio Inoki and Riki Choshu, but in the section with people like Madonna and Bruce Springsteen."
Dave Meltzer, The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, June 10, 1991

Akira Maeda (born Go Il-myeong, January 24, 1959note ) 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 insane 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 enemy, Riki Choshu. After another failed incarnation of UWF, Maeda contacted Russian sambists 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, following the tradition of Japanese pro wrestlers dipping in politics, he was also a candidate to the House of Councillors for the Democratic Party of Japan.

"Fighting Network Tropes":

  • The Ace: Maeda was not considered to be the next Inoki for nothing: he was a great worker with a legit background, could muster massive amounts of charisma with his bad boy image alone, and although not as handsome as his perennial partner Takada, he was still a hunk for the ladies.
  • Ace Pilot: One of his dreams is to fly a Mitsubishi A 6 M Zero across the Pacific Ocean and regularly uses flight simulators.
  • The Alcoholic: When he was in Russia to recruit fighters for RINGS, the Russians of all people were apparently impressed with his drinking habits.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: His parents got divorced when he was in high school 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.
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  • Always Someone Better: Feels that George Takano was this to him, as he jobbed to him a lot when they were young lions, having only one win against 35 losses and 15 draws, and even considered George the most talented wrestler New Japan had. Takano for his part, believed Maeda should have been made the ace of New Japan.
  • Anti-Hero: He was an arrogant, violent thug of a pro wrestler and a person, but he usually went against bad guys and was damn cool at it.
  • The Apprentice: Trained under a lot of people: Kotetsu Yamamoto, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Antonio Inoki, Karl Gotch and Karate masters Koji Iwasaki and Shogo Tanaka.
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • In NJPW, Antonio Inoki.
    • In RINGS, Chris Dolman and Volk Han, among others.
    • In an interesting real life example, Maeda and famous boxing champion Hidekazu Akai were leaders of enemy gangs back when they were teenagers in Osaka, and their feud, once was made public many years after, was the inspiration of the Takashi Miike film The Way to Fight. The characters Takeshi Hamada and Kurata are directly based on Maeda and his karate teacher Shogo Tanaka.
  • 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" (as well as not to look in chairman Jin's shady economical books) 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 and single leg Boston crab submission, which always got him a big pop. (To be fair, those moves are not impossible to perform in real fighting, but are simply too impractical. Also he wasn’t the only one who kept using the Boston crab).
  • 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 after a match became heated (though Maeda has claimed it was an accident and not a deliberate injury attempt). 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 Biker: Had a motorcycle in his high school years for 2 reasons, 1) he was passionate about them as much as karate and 2) so he could go out to eat since his dad wasn't home most of the time.
  • Badass Boast: Parodied. 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 him because his own record was 10000-0. Nowadays, he is still claiming it is true.
  • Badass Teacher: He trained or helped to train several wrestlers and fighters, like Mitsuya Nagai, Kiyoshi Tamura, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Wataru Sakata, Hiromitsu Kanehara, Masayuki Naruse, Yoshihisa Yamamoto and more.
  • Bar Brawl: A somewhat popular story set in his second tenure in NJPW had Maeda fighting Keiji Mutoh in a bar fight and knocking him out.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Towards Masakatsu Funaki.
  • Big Eater: According to himself, he is this and on one occasion, he had actors Shintaro Katsu and Akira Kobayashi treat him to a one million yen meal. [Does Not Like Spam He hates carrots and green peppers though.]]
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: The Brawns to Nobuhiko Takada's Beauty and Satoru Sayama's Brains.
  • Brick Joke: Before joining NJPW, Maeda wanted to travel to the United States and become a professional boxer under Muhammad Ali; in fact, he only signed up with the promotion after Hisashi Shinma told him they would help him with this venture. However, after a year of grueling wrestling training and no word about boxing, he had relinquished this aspiration and decided to be a full-fledged pro wrestler. Still, Shinma came one day and asked him casually when he was going to United States. They both laughed, even if Maeda probably wanted to rip apart his head.
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Back when he was a delinquent turned karate fighter, Akira was challenged in the street by a traditional kung fu practitioner, who claimed he would show him the superiority of his style in a no rules fight. Only seconds after they started, Maeda grabbed the chap by the hair and landed a knee strike right in his face. When the guy got up, he tried to argue it had been an illegal move, cue Maeda obviously pointing out he had said no rules.
    • Once Maeda came against five big American soldiers from the Roppongi military base, who were sitting on 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 scream "Don't be fun of Japanese!" to them.
    • Out of proportion as Maeda's shoot kick on Choshu may be, the incident itself was yet another instance of a wrestler overestimating how much crap Maeda was willing to take. Choshu had been blowing out Maeda's spots and behaving uncooperatively, including a clearly unscripted slap that echoed in the entire stadium, so when Maeda had his chance to pay it back, he took it thoroughly by stiffing the heck out of Choshu in a kick to the face.
    • In a 1994 RINGS match, Dick Vrij gave Maeda an eye poke between strike and strike. Maeda got angry enough to reach himself for Vrij's eyes in a choke attempt, then submitted him to a leglock and finally kicked him in the head for the trouble, causing a minor brawl. There's controversy about whether this was legit ot staged, though given that Vrij was notoriously hard to work with, it's perfectly possible that it was real.
  • Captain Ersatz: Fire Pro Wrestling started including these of him with Combination Tag in 1989. He also appeared in the video game Saikyou: Takada Nobuhiko under the name of "Hishida".
  • Catchphrase: "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, even proposing to create a new MMA event to be neutral ground for them if Rickson didn't want to fight in RINGS. By this point, given Maeda's ghastly state of health and his lack of inexperience on the format, it's difficult to think he would have been a serious contender, but the Brazilian wisely turned him 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 Inoki to send him to United States to fight Benny Urquídez. He became furious when he heard NJPW had invited Urquídez to fight a special match in 1989, right after Maeda had returned to UWF, as it meant he had barely missed the chance to meet him.
  • 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 pulling judo 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.
  • Covert Pervert: Aside from his philosophy readings, he also admitted that he also reads pornography, which is something not many celebrities in Japan will admit.
  • Crazy-Prepared: When Maeda was slated to wrestle kickboxer Don Nakaya Nielsen in 1986, there was the suspicion that Inoki had ordered Nakaya to shoot on Maeda to teach him a lesson for his rebellious ways (according Nielsen he wasn’t allowed to knockout Maeda, but outside of that he had free reign), so Maeda made sure to train like a machine and spar with Caesar Takeshi and Singsak Sosiripan, two kickboxers in league with the UWF guys.
  • 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.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: By his own admission, Maeda had a long string of dreams in his youth. He originally wanted to join the JSDF (he couldn't as he was not yet a naturalized Japanese), later wanted to travel to United States to open a Kyokushin karate dojo, later wanted to pursue a boxing career (he only joined NJPW after Hisashi Shinma promised they would help him in this), and then forgot it altogether when he started training with Yoshiaki Fujiwara and decided he wanted to be an old school pro wrestler. It finally sticked to him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: During the infamous match against Riki Choshu, the latter was showing himself clearly uncooperative, no-selling Maeda's kicks and holds, making difficult to Maeda to escape from a hold, and even outright slapping Maeda in a clearly unscripted moment. Maeda's answer? Capitalizing on another moment to kick Choshu with enough force to break his orbital bone. Akira claims that the spot was scripted and that it was Choshu's fault for not turning his head at his warning, but the strength of the kick was clearly meant to give Choshu a lesson even if he came away without an injury.
  • '80s Hair: Came disturbingly close to a mullet at times.
  • Everyone Owns a Mac: He does at least and is said to be an ardent Apple Macintosh evangelist.
  • Face: A definitely antiheroic variation.
  • Finishing Move: Cross armbar, capture suplex (also named Captured or Akira Special), kneebar, and kick to the head.
  • 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 jerkassery, Akira was good with people. He even persuaded Masutatsu Oyama to allow karatekas Willie Williams and Masaaki Satake to compete in RINGS.
  • Gun Nut: He is one and collects them like his katanas. Luckily, he only collects and uses airsoft guns, as he loves the sport and even has regular hangouts with his The Outsider students over it.
  • 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 headbutt and the match had to be stopped.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Literally. Maeda loves fishing and even has his own fishing boat.
  • 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.
  • Hidden Depths: He knows how to play the saxophone, as shown on a behind the scenes video of the UWF.
  • Hikikomori: Believe it or not, he was one briefly during his teens and even adjusted things in his house just so he didn’t have to leave.
  • The Idiot from Osaka: Was born there.
  • I Know Karate: Aside from his training in Catch Wrestling, Maeda has two black belts in Karate: an eight dan in Kyokushin Budokai and a second dan in Musokan Kobushi Shindo. He has a black belt in Shorinji Kempo too.
  • Insistent Terminology: Fighting Network RINGS was about combat sports, not professional wrestling. Maeda took it to the extant that he banned Weekly Pro Wrestling from covering his shows because it was a pro wrestling magazine.
  • Japanese Delinquents: Was a gang leader as a teenager. Many delinquents in Japan loved him when he became famous, as well.
  • Jerkass with a Heart of Gold: A hidden one, but one anyways. His "The Outsider" promotion's roster is mostly made of and was made for rehabilitating delinquents.
  • 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 (albeit Maeda claims Sayama faked the hit and Choshu forgot to protect himself in a scripted spot).
    • 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.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Maeda realized it, so he promoted 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.
  • Nerd Glasses: He actually did wear them, at least till the late 80s, out of the ring obviously.
  • 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.
  • Opposing Combat Philosophies: Notably hates ground and pound, and was the first to outright ban it in RINGS while the other shoot-style promotions merely discouraged it (even when the promotion adopted vale tudo-esque rules, ground and pound was still limited to the body only). He reluctantly had to allow it in HERO'S and The Outsider because MMA had evolved past that debate.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: According to Yoshiaki Fujiwara, back when they were doing tours for NJPW, Fujiwara, Satoru Sayama and Don Arakawa used to peep in the women's bath of the hotels they were hosted in. According to Don Arakawa, Maeda would sometimes join in.
  • Parental Abandonment: His father left his family when Akira was in high school.
  • Popularity Power:
    • 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.
  • Pro Wrestling Is Real: He initially came to New Japan on the popular Japanese belief that their pro wrestling was real fighting, and it was Satoru Sayama who had to tell him the truth. Sayama, however, also told him that Inoki wanted to make pro wrestling real, and advised him to train grappling with Fujiwara because he would need legit skills to catch up.
  • Rebel Leader: During the shoot invasion in NJPW.
  • Red Baron: "Kowashiya" ("Destroyer") and "Shin Kakuto O" ("The New King of Fighting"; the old one being Inoki, of course), "Super Dangerous Hero", and "Sparkling Flash", "Nanairo no Sūpurekkusu O Motsu Otoko" ("The Man With The Rainbow Suplex"). He was also referred by more creative journalists as "Kick no Senjukannon" ("The Multi-Armed God of Kicking"; yeah, a bit counter-intuitive) and "Kurokami no Robesupiēru" ("The Black-Haired Robespierre").
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Nobuhiko Takada's blue. They even wore ring robes Color-Coded for Your Convenience while in NJPW.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: In his childhood, he was a fan of the original Ultraman tv series and was shocked when the monster Zetton defeated Ultraman, it drove him to study Shorinji Kempo in an attempt to one day "defeat" Zetton and even got his 1st dan in elementary school. He finally got to face Zetton on January 29, 2014, at the "Ultraman Blu-ray BOX III" release commemorative program on Nico Nico Live Broadcasting.
  • Rolling Attack: His patented abisegiri kick, which is even his finisher in the video game RINGS Astral Bout 3.
  • Rōnin: Failed his college entrance exams, so he started working part time meanwhile.
  • 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.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Likes smoking cigars and from pipes.
  • The Spartan Way: Fujiwara only accepted to train Maeda in the ways of legit catch wrestling after watching Inoki beating down Maeda without a moan by the latter.
  • Start My Own: UWF Newborn (with Shinji Jin), Fighting Network RINGS and The Outsider.
  • Stout Strength: Downplayed in that he was not fat, but compared to his fellow U-System peers he had a notable gut to their slim builds.
  • Suplex Finisher: The capture suplex, also known as Captured or Akira Special.
  • ¡Three Amigos!: Was said to be good friends and rivals with George Takano (aka The Cobra) and Junji Hirata (aka Super Strong Machine). Some even considered them the original Three Musketeers of New Japan before Chono, Mutoh, and Hashimoto came along.
  • 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. (About the wife bit, Maeda was accused of domestic violence, though he was apparently found to be not guilty.)
  • Ur-Example:
    • 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 and Masakatsu Funaki.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Aside from the wife beating above, some sources mention that he once dated Joshi wrestler Chitose Nagayo and even trained her for a brief time. Apparently she Really Gets Around because of her popularity and one day while out drinking, he got fed up and assaulted her, leading to them breaking up.
  • 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.