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Wrestling / Yoshiaki Fujiwara

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The boss.
"Fujiwara was a fun guy to be around. And I wasn't around, but just the stories in his younger days... There was nobody that could touch him when it came to ankle locks. He was a master at that. But I got there later on when he was a little bit older. He was a machine - he could train all day long."

Yoshiaki Fujiwara (b. April 27, 1949) is a Japanese Professional Wrestler who later took up acting and promoting. He debuted in 1972 for New Japan Pro-Wrestling as its first dojo graduate ever, learning Catch Wrestling under the legendary Karl Gotch. Thanks to his training and toughness, he was appointed NJPW founder Antonio Inoki's bodyguard, but his lack of charisma kept him tied to the low card. This ended when he attacked native heel Riki Choshu before a match, gaining the crowd's cheers and becoming a famous face of the company. In 1984, he followed his students Akira Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada to found the Universal Wrestling Federation, a promotion which featured a realistic wrestling style called shoot-style. After the UWF's demise, he returned along his pals to NJPW, where he competed for four more years, until Maeda left again to form the second UWF, and after negociating with Inoki, Fujiwara and his two new students Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki were allowed to join it. They enjoyed an immense popularity, but the company fell apart again when its members took separate directions. Fujiwara and his trainees founded Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi, where he put himself over as the company's ace, but again it was short-lived, as half of the roster left to form MMA promotion Pancrase and the other half (this time in good terms with him) to form Battlarts. Now going solo, Fujiwara became a freelancer and worked for feds like All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling ZERO-ONE, and got a great victory against gastric cancer in 2007. He remains as a free agent, is associated with the Scientific Wrestling organization, and occasionally works as a trainer for Inoki Genome Federation.

"Showa no Tropes":

  • The Ace: Mainly in Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi.
  • Achilles' Heel: Fujiwara definitely knew how to strike, but according to people in the business, he did not like to be hit, that being the reason he never indulged in MMA. Most of his matches played with it, with him assuming the role of matwork technician while his opponent worked as a striker. He has also admitted that he never had a good takedown game, which would probably explain why some of his students like Masakatsu Funaki didn’t either.
  • A Father to His Men: Unlike the first PWFG schism which created Pancrase, Fujiwara remained in good terms with the founders of Battlarts, and he appeared in their first show to give a speech which ended with a heartfelt "Thank you, my sons".
  • The Alcoholic: Has the reputation to be a pretty strong drinker, capable to remain standing after enough sake cups to take down completely a man of his size. After he had stomach cancer, he eased up a bit, but is still known as a drinking animal.
  • Almighty Janitor: He left NJPW for not getting pushed enough despite being very popular and a great worker.
  • Alternate Company Equivalent: Arguably to Brazilian Luta Livre master Roberto Leitão. They are both considered the highest authority in their respective Catch Wrestling-based styles in their countries. They both also have artistic hobbies.
  • Always Someone Better: Fujiwara and judo champion Willem Ruska traded this dynamic in the NJPW Dojo back when Ruska signed up with the company. The first times they sparred for real, Ruska was capable to throw down Fujiwara even without judogis, but Fujiwara tapped him out from the bottom every time due to his superior submission game. However, Ruska later improved his own game and nobody in the dojo could beat him anymore.
  • Anti-Hero: In a time headlined by godlike heroes like Antonio Inoki and rugged heels like Riki Choshu, Fujiwara was just an ugly madman who enjoyed headbutting people out and who happened to be in the side of good (most of the time, that is).
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: His grappling philosophy, very in the line of catch wrestling, is composed of avoid thinking in the possibility of losing and never, never stop trying to wrench some limb off.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Is defined as the strongest shooter in the UWF, and according to many, has a hefty record in closed doors fights. Whenever martial artists came to the NJPW or the UWF dojo with a challenge, Yoshiaki was the one in charge of welcoming them and wiping the floor with them until they cried uncle.
  • Author Appeal: Catch wrestling and submissions in general. His apprentice Suzuki recalled that when he had his debut, Fujiwara punched him backstage and berated him for doing the typical Young Lion moves when he should have been using all the subs Fujiwara had taught him.
  • Ax-Crazy: Had his moments, especially whenever he attacked somebody without a clear reason to do it other than his own, twisted amusement.
  • Badass Boast: The incident between Minoru Suzuki and Apollo Sugawara wasn't the only example of inter-promotional heat in the PWFG-SWS joint shows. After the brawl, the SWS referee came to Fujiwara and threatened to kill him for being Suzuki's stablemaster and thus responsible for him, to which Fujiwara laughed his ass off and replied, "if you think you can do it, come on and try."
  • Badass Teacher: Trained guys like Masakatsu Funaki, Minoru Suzuki, Ken Shamrock, Bart Vale and all the PWFG native wrestlers.
  • Big Damn Heroes: He intruded in IGF before the match between Naoya Ogawa and Montanha Silva in order to save the former from a similar intrusion by Tadao Yasuda.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: Aside from wrestling, Yoshiaki worked for a long time as a real life bodyguard for Antonio Inoki's thanks to his martial arts skills (a work he lamented was rather dangerous, because a lot of tough people often tried to challenge Inoki). He was also at ringside during Inoki's match against Muhammad Ali, waiting for any signal to jump into the ring and turn somebody into a knot.
  • Body Horror: Fortunately downplayed, but wrestling reviewers are still usually quick to note that current Fujiwara has been left with a physique uncomfortable to look at: bow legs, a melty torso, a wizened face and very thin arms. This has the interesting effect of making him look creepy, pitiable and badass all at the same time, especially on the note that he is an elderly cancer survivor who is somehow still kicking ass on the ring.
  • Boring, but Practical: Almost all of his moves are relatively basic submissions, but you have the assurance he could pull them off in a real fight. His trademark move is just a waki-gatame, which if you are knowledgeable in Judo you will known is both simple and cringe-inducing devastating (see Dangerous Forbidden Technique below).
  • Bullying a Dragon:
    • Back when Fujiwara worked as a gym enforcer for NJPW, Bob Orton Jr. (Randy Orton's daddy) did something that upset Fujiwara during a match between the two. What happened exactly is not known, but it is known that Fujiwara came to him after the bout and used Orton to wipe the floor.
    • When Killer Khan returned to NJPW in March 1983, he gave Fujiwara a hard time because the latter would scoff of Khan's boasts of being a beast, and to make things worse, Inoki joked they should just sort it out in the ring the next day. Said and done, when the two came out, Fujiwara punched Khan, pulled him to the ground and went for a joint lock, and at that point Riki Choshu and Masa Saito had to run in to stop the bout before Fujiwara wrecked further the returning star in front of the crowd. Fujiwara and Khan reconciled years later, though, when the former admitted the whole thing had been an overreaction and a punk move on his part.
    • In PWFG, during the everlasting feud between kickboxers and wrestlers, a kickboxer named Don Nakaya Nielsen shot on Fujiwara in a worked match and forced the ring doctors to stop the bout. Fujiwara was angry and eager to get him, but as he was too old for a MMA match, he sent Ken Shamrock to get revenge for the shooters. The results are history.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: His old school style and eccentric persona make him look a bit like a crazy old man, especially by shoot-style standards, but he is an excellent wrestling worker with an incredible knowledge of martial arts.
  • Captain Ersatz: He appeared in the videogame Saikyou: Takada Nobuhiko under the name of "Fujikawa".
  • Cassandra Truth: When it was announced that Masakatsu Funaki would face Rickson Gracie in 2000, many people in Japan thought that Funaki would win, but Fujiwara shocked them by telling Masa in a conference that he couldn't win if he wasn't cunning. Then the fight came, and Funaki lost by a failed gameplan and a blowed knee received during a Leeroy Jenkins spot. Fujiwara's savviness was never disputed again.
  • The Champion: He was in charge of welcoming challenging martial artists in the NJPW Dojo, and he was nicknamed "Inoki no Kagemusha" ("Inoki's Body Double") because they always came looking for Antonio Inoki. Reportedly, none of them ever managed to get through him.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: His interviews tend to be pretty tongue-in-cheek, to say the least. There's also the fact he participated in a Japanese porn films.
  • Combat Pragmatist: He once said that the objective of a shoot match is "damaging the opponent so he can never fight again", and has sometimes spoken about fish hooks and eye gouges as part of what Karl Gotch taught him in case of a real fight. He also advises to employ leglocks over armlocks against non-Japanese people, as while in Japanese culture people is expected to be flexible in their legs due to sitting on the floor all their life, in Western culture it is the opposite case.
  • Combat Referee: In a notable occasion, he was a special guest referee at the Rikidozan Memorial Show in 2000, in an exhibition match between Antonio Inoki and J-pop idol singer Hideaki Takizawa (later known as half of the popular duo Tackey & Tsubasa). He was mostly there to prevent Inoki from going overboard in kicking the kid's ass, and even helped Hideaki "win" the match.
  • Cool Old Guy: In real life.
  • Cool vs. Awesome:
    • He featured an elite grappling match with sambo master Volk Han in Fighting Network RINGS.
    • Before that, he used to work grappling vs. striking matches with Sayama.
    • More recently was his exhibition match with Shinya Aoki at the Next Exciting Wrestling debut show.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: He may look like a lanky old man who sells like a cripple every time he receives a leg kick, but Fujiwara can hang up with the best and give them a bad day if he manages to grab an arm.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Back when he was in the first UWF, he used to tell the press that his biggest dream was becoming the "PWF Champion". They never caught it until he founded Fujiwara-Gumi, when they realized he was referring to a future Pro Wrestling Fujiwara promotion (though some fans originally thought that he meant the Pacific Wrestling Federation (PWF) World Heavyweight Championship from All Japan Pro Wrestling, which would have been quite confusing due to the professional rivalry between All Japan, New Japan and UWF).
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: His Fujiwara Armbar, a waki-gatame from a standing entry, is a nasty Judo technique designed more to maul than to submit. It breaks the opponent's arm with terrifying ease, and the only way to leave him time to tap out safely is essentially doing it slow enough that he can block it, which makes the technique hard to utilize without true killing intent. For this reason, this entry is forbidden in judo competition, and the waki-gatame itself is only legal if locked already on the ground (or in previous rulesets, if locked standing without ever dropping down). In fact, Fujiwara adopted it after watching a Korean player being disqualified for doing it.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: One after grueling sparring with Chris Dolman in 1976, as when they reunited again 13 years later in UWF, the first thing Dolman did upon meeting the UWF crew was giving Fujiwara a Boisterous Bruiser hug.
  • Determinator:
    • When Inoki had his famous bout with Willem Ruska in 1976, their respective cornermen, Fujiwara and Chris Dolman, had a sparring in the NJPW Dojo. According to Dolman, they went for a whopping 30 minutes of both striking and grappling, with the heavier and better rounded Dutch beating Fujiwara so much that his own judogi was dying red - yet, to Dolman's absolute astonishment, Fujiwara never flinched a bit in the entire bout.
    • A true testament to his toughness is that he had gastric cancer and beat it in 2007.
  • Dirty Old Man: Has a bit of this reputation, especially when it became public he was sleeping with one of his female staff members in Fujiwara-Gumi who was 18 years his junior.
  • Don't Think, Feel: An adept of the idea, according to his apprentices.
    Masakatsu Funaki: "When I first started training at 15, I didn't know any wrestling. Fujiwara would tell me not to think about that, about techniques, but just to think about how to take my opponent down. For him, first off and more than technique, it was guts, the mindset that was important."
  • The Dreaded: His shooting skills were so feared that Killer Khan once abandoned a match with him after feeling him out, as he feared Fujiwara might get angry on him.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Attacking heel kingpin Riki Choshu from behind in 1984 and leaving him bloodied, which Japanese people call "Tero Jiken" ("The Terrorist Incident").
  • Evil Is Petty: Anti-heroic example. One of his customs before the matches is throwing his commemorative bouquet to the crowd as a sign of disrespect.
  • Expy: Sort of zig-zagged with Osamu Kido, another shoot-style wrestler who trained under Gotch and used a waki-gatame as a finisher too. Kido debuted well before Fujiwara, but Fujiwara became popular much earlier than Kido (who never became popular anyways) and he popularized the wrestling style Kido would go to showcase.
    • He also had a more straight up one in Norman Smiley, at least to the Japanese as they nicknamed Smiley "Black Fujiwara".
  • Finishing Move: Fujiwara Armbar (a waki-gatame) and ankle lock.
  • Genius Bruiser: Aside from wrestling, he is also a prolific artist and writer.
  • Glass Cannon: Is known to be rather injury prone. But who would not be, with the kind of career he has had.
  • Giver of Lame Names: His suggestion to Bart Vale to promote his fighting system was called the "Kick, Suplex & Submission Style" because he thought "Shootfighting" was a stupid name. Understandably Vale stuck with his own option.
  • Good Is Not Soft: He became a valuable member of the NJPW native army after brutalizing Choshu, and remained as a face wrestler despite having no qualms about dispensing stiff beatdowns and tearing out joints.
  • Groin Attack: Used a banana leg spread on Ismael Changani.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Played this gimmick even when he was not old enough to qualify.
  • Hardboiled Detective: In the film Roppongi Soldier, Yoshiaki plays a rather eccentric fighter turned detective called Sabu (no, not that Sabu) who helps Satoru Sayama's character to solve a Film Noir affair.
  • Hidden Depths: Before he became the Terrorist of Showa, few people would have said Inoki's ugly assistant could come to be that charismatic. He is also a prolific drawer and artisan potter, and was also a cook before his wrestling career.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Yoshiaki was Antonio Inoki's cornerman and bodyguard. According to Karl Gotch, he was about ten times better fighter than him, and Inoki was supposedly no slouch either.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: According to himself, he never became a fighter because the mental and physical strain of a MMA career would be too much for what he was willing to endure. Considering he ended up pretty shot anyways in pro wrestling, perhaps he saved his life by doing so.
  • I Know Karate: Was a very succesful judoka in high school. He also trained in Kendo, and later became Karl Gotch's top Catch Wrestling student. He also added Muay Thai as well later in his life under Yoshimitsu Tamashiro.
  • Informed Loner: According to himself, he is a bit of a loner in real life, and his wrestling persona has been tellingly an unaligned freelancer for most of his career. However, he has been a member of some stables, was part of an era of Japanese wrestling where Rival Dojos were the norm, and has gone to say he got along very well with many NJPW names one would never guess he was in good terms with.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Averted, as he broke his hand while punching Killer Khan in their shoot.
  • Jerkass: His gimmick is that of a crazy old shooter with an excess of aggression. He is pretty suave in real life, however.
  • Master of All: He believes this is what every grappler should aspire to be about submissions.
    "For me, my thinking is that the more of them you can do, the more easily you’ll be able to get one on your opponent. And more than that, on both sides- left and right."
  • Murderous Thighs: Has a variation of the Fujiwara Armbar that is done with his legs. He uses it as a Counter-Attack to takedowns.
  • Nice Guy: Despite his harsh training methods and sadistic wrestling persona, he's known for being very polite and friendly, especially compared to many of his UWF pals. It is probably the reason he managed to stay friends with many opposing groups and promotions in The '90s.
  • No-Sell: He can shrug off ankle locks with a smile on his face.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: According to himself, 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, Akira Maeda would sometimes join in.
  • Old Master: A renowned one in Catch Wrestling. His grappling instructional videos are considered some of the best practical documentation about catch-as-catch-can we have today.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: After the UWF split, the greatest shoot-style exponents to Japanese eyes were Nobuhiko Takada from UWF International, Akira Maeda from RINGS and Masakatsu Funaki from Pancrase. Like Satoru Sayama, Fujiwara was never counted despite being the head of his own shoot style promotion and was probably considered too old. He does however have the distinction of having trained all three men above.
  • Passing the Torch: Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki are his top trainees and the closest to him in wrestling knowledge.
  • Perky Female Minion: German wrestler Kirstie "Thundercrackk" Bragard, who started out as his apprentice, and then became his lover, manager and bodyguard when not involved in her own matches and fights. Possibly as quirky as Fujiwara himself, she went to participate with him in a couple porn films named Thunder Ecstasy.
  • Person as Verb: Is the reason why the waki-gatame is called the Fujiwara Armbar in English.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: He is an awesome artist, especially at drawing (which is not typically considered a manly art in Japan), and even used to draw illustrations for pro wrestling magazines. Ironically he used to hate painting since he hated his art teachers telling him what to do and even told one of them "They are all those who failed to become painters, so they shouldn't be teaching it."
  • Red Baron: "Showa no Terrorist" ("The Terrorist of the Showa Era"), "Kansetsu-Waza no Oni" ("The Demon of Joint Locking"), "Fujiwara Kumicho" (roughly "Don Fujiwara"), "Mondo Muyo no Shigotoshi" ("The No-Questions-Asked Worker" - an euphemism for a hitman), "Inoki no Yojinbo" ("Antonio Inoki's Bodyguard").
  • Ring Oldies: Seventy years old, has wrestled in four different decades and doesn't look like he is going to stop soon.
  • Sadist Teacher: A legendary one, if not for being mean, surely for being thorough. Most of his trainees recall ending up completely broken after a single training session with him.
  • Start My Own: Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi and the short-lived Japan Pro Wrestling Association.
  • The Call Put Me on Hold: He became popular very late in his career, at 35 years old (which are 12 whole years after he joined NJPW), after having been just a low carder and dojo master until then.
  • Time to Unlock More True Potential: He took up Muay Thai for a time under Yoshimitsu Tamashiro when he was 40 and had an injured knee, as it impeded him to roll or wrestle.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The reason from his uprising from an anodyne low-carder to a NJPW army member was his beatdown on Riki Choshu, who was nearly untouchable until that point.
  • Ur-Example: The first graduate of the New Japan Dojo.
  • Use Your Head: Uses continuously headbutts during his matches, even in a pragmatic and realistic style like shoot wrestling (UWF Newborn’s rules apparently don’t even mention them and he wasn’t the only one to use them), and it's well known he has a freaking Hard Head. He once feuded with Buffalo Allen (aka Allen Coage) around the issue of who had the strongest head, and Fujiwara often repeatedly banged his own head against the ringpost to scare him.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: He has confessed to have Claustrophobia, to the point that he once had to get himself some whiskey shots to hide in a box for a Japanese TV game show in which he was participating in.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Usually in mixed tag team matches where both men and women have surprisingly no problem facing other. He was also one of the few guys from New Japan and the U-System to be comfort with training females, that combined with his Sadist Teacher tendencies leaves little to the imagination.
  • Yakuza: His company was called "Fujiwara Gumi" (where "Gumi" a word used to yakuza groups) and he put himself the title of "kumicho" (a word for yakuza boss or gang leader, pretty much like The Don). In general, Yoshiaki enjoys making himself look like a yakuza, and given it's Japan we are talking about, who knows whether it is just a character or something more.