Missing Shoot Style
March 8, 2007 by Ben Acheampong
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Kaze Ni Nare ". . .I want to be a lonely warrior."
God I miss U-Style. . . yep, Ben's going on a tangent about a form of wrestling that no one in their right mind would know anything about, because they don't sit on their computers everyday, trying to download every form of wrestling they can get their grubby little paws on so they can write columns about them later and win columns of the month that they never post on the main page. . .oh yeah today's a good day.
Benbeeach column tried and true. Strap on the thinking caps fellas, time for the history lesson. Ok so after reading a thread started by 'ohmygod614' about who they're favorite shoot-style wrestlers were. And it got my blood pumping. (above the waist of course, I like mano y mano action...but not like that) and got me thinking about all the countless hours of great shoot style matches I have on my PC, and just what happened to one of the forms of wrestling I love soo much.
Any type of wrestling in Japan can be traced easily from promotion to promotion, top star to top star. Our tree looks a little something like this. Rikidozan - - - -> Antonio Inoki - - - > Akira Maeda. The stories of Rikidozan and Inoki are that of legend and are really for another time and another place. Just look at it like this. Rikidozan is the 'Father of Puroresu' Puroresu-Japanese for Profession Wrestling. Inoki was one of Rikidozan's two major disciples, along with Shohei "Giant" Baba, who formed New Japan and All Japan Pro Wrestling respectively. Akira Maeda is the protege' of Inoki, and founder of the original UWF. In New Japan, Inoki told Maeda that "Pro-wrestlers must be strong therefore you need to learn submission moves. NJPW would further develop in the future and would begin not show-wrestling but real fights."
Maeda believed it and simply followed this philosophy.
The Man The Myth- The Maeda
Akira Maeda was a wrestler with a cocky pissed off attitude with a moveset to match, having trained extensively in the martial arts before becoming a wrestler he would carry that over with him into his in-ring work, that would lead him to great heights later on in his career.
In 1984, Maeda would leave New Japan to form his own promotion, the UWF or Universal Wrestling Federation . . . like most upstart promotions then and now, it failed. The original incarnation of the UWF had a working relationship with the WWF. Vince and Maeda butted heads on a couple of issues, and Vince made Maeda the top star of his promotion, backed him with tons of red and yellow promotional material and have him beat Andre the Giant at the biggest wrestling event of all time. . . ok not quite. But remember that giant fella, he'll become important later on.
Anywho, Vince made Maeda a gloried jobber for a while, big surprise! and that relationship came to an end rather quickly. Maeda also had a run in with the other top star of the company. Satoru Sayama a.ka. Tiger Mask 1 aka Original Tiger Mask aka Tiger King aka Super Tiger, etc... You know who I'm talking about. The guy who wrestled Dynamite Kid a lot. Anyway, Maeda and Tiger had a difference in opinion in which direction the company would take. Maeda suggested submissions, and Tiger a former kickboxer, wanted knockout kicks. So this all came to ahead when Maeda met Tiger in the ring in a brutal match, in which Maeda didn't pull any of his kicks... to the groin, and caused the disqualification. Maeda was fired, and Sayama, disillusioned with puro as a whole, wouldn't be heard from for 11 years. Shoulda wore a cup. So Maeda came back to New Japan, but having been the top guy in a company totally separate from NJPW, coming back, Maeda was held in a different regard than years previous. He was a top guy, a dangerous guy, in his once home promotion now, hated, feared, yet revered outsider.
Maeda brought with him Yoshiaki Fujiwara (the guy the armbar's named after), Osamu Kido, Nobuhiko Takada and Kazuo Yamazaki and formed a stable of EVIL shootfighters against Inoki (hey him again) and his band of New Japan loyalist.
Maeda had real heat with booker, Inoki and refused to work a one on one program with him which could have drawn major money, but again Maeda's got too much clout at this point in Japan to the point where he chose who he lost to, when he lost, and how he lost, if he lost. Top Star: Comes with the territory. The only thing that separated Maeda with a lot of inflated wrestling ego's and personalities is that he possessed a skill, many did not. The Shoot. Like wrestling greats, Lou Thesz, George Hackendschmidt, and Karl Gotch before him If worse came to worse in a match, Maeda could make 'his own' finish. One such occurrence happened in April of 1986
A match made by guess who, Inoki pitted Andre the Giant (told you to remember the big fella) against the Akira. Neither man wanted to take the L in the loss column so what happened was one of the most surreal moments in the history of wrestling.
For 15 minutes, Maeda would proceed to leg kick Andre, back up, and repeat. Andre way past his prime and pretty much defenseless, half asleep, lied down, preparing to let Maeda just pin him, collect the pay day and go home, but Akira was having none of that. More kicks, more snoozes, occurred until Inoki came out and ordered the match to be stopped. Begs the question, who could legit beat Akira Maeda in the 80's worse comes to worse. I could probably count the list on one hand.
On June 12, 1986, Maeda faced one of the few New Japan wrestlers he respected, Tatsumi Fujinami. During the match, Maeda accidentally hit Fujinami with a shoot kick to the face causing Fujinami to bleed profusely.The match ended in a double knockout. But 1987 proved to be Maeda's final hurrah in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
But that wasn't even the most infamous moment of Maeda's career. No no, far from it. During a 6 man tag in 1987, Riki Choshu, inventor of the Sasori-gatame, known to us American's as the Scorpion Death Lock or Sharpshooter, had a wrestler in his signature hold when Maeda delivered a legitimate kick to Choshu's face, breaking his orbital bone. The resulting injury would sideline Choshu for well over a month. Maeda was suspended, and later fired, by New Japan. . . like he cared. Point being - Akira Maeda, resident bad ass.
NEWBORN UWF- The Second Coming
After Akira Maeda was suspended without pay and eventually dismissed from New Japan for intentionally shooting on Riki Choshu, Takada, Yamazaki, Yoji Anjo, and rookie Tatsuo Nakano agreed to leave the promotion in February 1988. In fact, most of the original UWF roster left New Japan. The Newborn UWF started in March of '88, with a superb card that set the standard for shoot-style puroresu to follow.
The theme of this newly re-formed UWF was "a return to the origin of pro-wrestling."
Maeda got rid of all the show aspects of pro-wrestling; running to the ropes, jumping off the corner post, fighting outside the ring hitting with chairs or some sort of "artilleries, " three count pin, tag team match, etc. It still was pro-wrestling but the matches were filled with real techniques from submission, grappling, wrestling, and karate. They were all so fast, quick, and powerful, and the form quite beautiful, that they were indeed very convincing. Convincing in the sense that you could tell that these guys are real tough S.O.B.'s.
In a Japanese Wrestling climate heavily influenced by it's American counter-part, in New Japan and All Japan, where the American-originated standard of count-outs and disqualifications were utilized heavily, because clean finishes (as in, submissions or knockouts in the middle of the ring) in the UWF were not the exception, but the rule, the fans could see clear-cut winners and losers, it was more accepted as "real fighting".
In 1989, Yoshiaki Fujiwara was also allowed out of his New Japan contract and was able to bring Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki, with him. That year also saw the debut of Kiyoshi Tamura, who is still recognized as one of the eminent shoot-style pro-wrestlers in Japan. Even Bob Bob Backlund would make an appearance in this new hybrid wrestling promotion. Maeda's UWF became the first promotion to hold a show at the Tokyo Dome, drawing 60, 000 to watch Maeda defeat Willie Williams in the main event.
But 1990 saw the UWF go through it's share of ups and downs. A new knockdown system (which this author is personally not a fan of) and a general disinterest in cross -promotion on the part of Maeda, along with the general Japanese economic downturn caused the UWF to host it's final show on December 1, 1990.
Fight Network RINGS
When the UWF wrestlers thus went their separate ways. Most of the roster founded UWF International or UWF-I. Fujiwara formed the Pro-Wrestling Fujiwara Group, notable for producing a young Glen Jacobs otherwise known as Kane. The Big Red Machine snapping on rear naked chokes and jujigatame's? Believe it. Akira Maeda went on to form the Fight Network Rings which by now had stopped billing itself as wrestling at all. Featuring mixed martial artists from all types of backgrounds including the legendary Russians Fedor Emilanenko (current Pride Heavyweight Champion) and Volk Han. . Volk Han, in his first Japanese appearance, was invited to fight in the main card of a RINGS event in December of 1991, and proved it all. Han displayed a series of moves, submissions and choking holds never before seen and overwhelmed Maeda, showing Japanese fight fans a taste of truly dangerous but graceful ground techniques. It was Han and his "Commando Sambo" or Russian Military Marial Arts, which first made Japanese fans realized of a fact now known as a common knowledge; submission and choking holds can be just as lethal as kicks to the temple or punches to the chin.
The major problem with RINGS in the beginning was that it was all Maeda all the time, so much so, that the cable company RINGS was on, would not broadcast if Maeda wasn't fighting. That's how big Maeda was. That would come back to bite RINGS in the butt, when in 1992 Maeda suffered a knee injury. Maeda, back in 1991, suffered a torn knee ligament but kept on fighting wearing a knee brace. But finally, at the end of 1992 his knee was close to being completely busted, with ligaments almost ripped apart. Surgery was in order. Suffice to say, but Maeda continued fighting with this injury for over a year just to keep RINGS alive. If he didn't fight, that meant no money from the cable company and financial backers and very small ticket sales everywhere. Maeda knew too well that him taking a break could result in the bankruptcy of RINGS; putting a lot of people, not only in Japan, but all over Europe, out of work. Maeda was a man of honor and he just could not let that happen.
Finally in 1993, Maeda negotiated a new deal with WOWOW (financial backer) and went under the knife and took a year off. With Volk Han becoming top dog.
RINGS would later go on to branch out into forms of legitimate MMA, with K-1 it's brainchild and Pancrase coming out of the Fujiwara Group, founded by Minoru Suzuki. The UFC in America took the organized fighting in Japan and more or less bastardized it in the beginning to pimp shock value and it rarely resembled anything organized at all, but of course all that would change over time. . . Back to RINGS in a moment
For years Nobuhiko Takada, pictured in the pink, kicking that the poor soul in his grill, played face understudy to Akira Maeda's Hulk Hogan. Think Brutus, without the scissors, or Randy without the Slim Jim commercials. Takada went on to form the UWF-I. It was founded on May 11, 1991. Essentially the main continuation of the UWF, it featured most of its roster, led by Nobuhiko Takada as the top star and face.
The UWF-I had an even more complicated point-system that was rarely used to it's greatest capacity because of the prevalence of knock outs and submissions. Whilst still worked (i.e. predetermined), this style was very convincing for its time, as it conveyed a more hard-hitting, realistic style. In retrospect, UWFi, along with other shoot-style promotions, served as a precursor to the popular MMA promotions of today, particularly PRIDE. In 1992 a battle took place between Takada and top foreign antagonist Gary Albright for the "Real Pro-Wrestling World Heavyweight Title." As a gimmick, Lou Thesz acted as commissioner and gave his old 1950s NWA World title belt to be used as the distinction. Takada won and became the first champion, seemingly endorsed by this past master as the real deal. The theme of UWFi being "real pro-wrestling" was central to the promotion's image. Thesz and Takada would deride other Japanese promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling for being "fake", claiming themselves to be legit, with Takada often taking on champions of all different types of combat sports. Going so far as to calling out champions of other groups like Misawa of All Japan, Masa Chono of New Japan, Maeda of Rings and Funaki and Suzuki from Pancrase. In reality the UWF-I wasn't anymore legitimate than any of these other promotions.
1993 saw the call answered by WCW World Champion Super Vader. (The Big Van part is owned by New Japan).
Vader beat Takada (after a previous defeat on December 5, 1993 before 46, 168 fans at Tokyo's Meiji-Jingu Stadium where Takada legit broke Vader's arm via jujigatame (cross arm breaker). Vader would be one of only two men to actually beat Takada during the promotions 5 year run. Takada was the top guy no doubt, but that would come back to bite the promotion when Gary Albright felt his losing to future top star Kiyoshi Tamura was unjust and left to All Japan and Vader left over scheduling conflicts and money disputes, leaving no credible challengers to Takada's title. Interest began to decline.
The UWF-I bookers proposed a return to their roots, and running shows with their root promotion New Japan. Booker Riki Choshu agreed, but only under the condition that it be booked the way he wanted it to be. Thesz withdrew, finding New Japan too gimmicky (some people are never satisfied, RIP). Thus, the UWFi-New Japan "feud" began. For Choshu, this was more than about just generating record-breaking ticket sales; it was payback for Thesz and Takada's earlier derision of their wrestling style. He would ensure that every pro-wrestling fan see for themselves who the real stars were. Vindictive, yes? Justified, absolutely.
Takada was immune from any ridiculous jobbing, "Japanese Top Star Status", and the like, competing and exchanging wins with top stars Shinya Hashimoto and Keiji Mutoh aka The Great Muta for the top belt the IWGP title. As for other UWF-I stars, they all put in great efforts in their matches, losing efforts, but efforts no less. Kimura, Takada's successor saw the writing on the wall and left for RINGS before any losses could be attached to his record.
Takada's three main bouts, 2 between Muto, and 1 with Hashimoto drew 67, 000, 64, 000 and 65, 000 fans to the Tokyo Dome. When it was all said and done, the New Japan vs. UWFI was the biggest moneymaking feud in Japanese pro-wrestling history.
Of course all good things must come to an end, and the UWF-I closed its door in 1996.
So Goes the Transition, Tamura Got F***ed - MMA
When the UWF-I folded Takada, making and folding another promotion by the name of KINGDOM, entered real mixed martial arts fighting by entering the Pride Fighting Championships against none other than what many consider the greatest fighter from the greatest fight family of them all, Rickson (pronounced Hickson) Gracie of the Brazilian Gracie Jiu-Jitsu clan. Takada's actual fighting abilities were never in question, just his age. Being in his mid 30's was a lot different than being in his mid 20's during the height of his initial UWF run. Conditioning would be the question. Rickson made Takada tap by armbar in 9 minutes, which was quite the accomplishment for Takada, as a usual Rickson opponent wouldn't have lasted 1/3 of that time. Akira Maeda watching on in the crowd during this fight was shown on the big screen after the fight with a look of endearment and empathy for his fallen comrade, and disappointment in the loss. Someone would have to avenge this loss for not just Takada, but for Pro-Wrestling and Japan as a whole. Takada faced Rickson again with similar results.
So Akira Maeda brokered a deal with Aleksander Karelin the undefeated Olympic Pro Wrestler to fight Maeda in RINGS in his retirement bout. Karelin who could probably make Kurt Angle say mommy, defeated Maeda pretty soundly, limiting Maeda's striking, by employing an effective ground game and executing the deadly Karelin lift.
This was not a close fight. It was, in fact, a crushing defeat. Maeda, hands-down took a loss in his final professional bout. Fans accepted it. Everyone knew Maeda was completely covered with wounds. The fight itself drew a 5 million dollar gate, not including the money from that same cable company that would pay him unless he fought. We're all repaid in the end. Besides, Maeda followers had a keen instinct that this was the beginning new era.
Kiyoshi Tamura arguably the 3rd heir in the line of Shoot Wrestling Kings . . . was also the one who often got left out in the cold. His time never came to be 'The Man'. While arguably being the greatest practitioner of the U-Style, his time as top guy, main eventer came at a time where the genre was being superseded by real mixed martial arts fighting, which Tamura was also adept at. He even won the best technical wrestler award in 1998 as almost sort of a call to arms.
While Tamura would be capable of many more of those in the past in the future, it was always a timing issue. Tamura would never be able to hone his craft on the main stage and instead had to move to the Pride fighting Championships. A skilled fighter able to beat opponents much larger than he, he is still to this day considered one of the best Japanese fighters, with his dreaded Hiza Juji-gatame (knee bar), by 19 he was one of the worlds best, even if his ability was never put to great use on the top of a wrestling promotion. When Takada was done it was common knowledge that it would be Tamura's turn. But his turn never came.
While Tamura was a palpable choice to due to no fault of his own, who would be the one to save the legitimacy of the U/Catch/Shoot Style in the now very real world of mixed martial arts.
The Gracie Hunter - From the bottom to the Top
ENTER: Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba started at the bottom of the UWF-I. Perrenial loser and curtain jerker. His tenacity and ability to approve always had show through even through loss, and he was one of the shining lights during the UWF-I, New Japan feud. During the KINGDOM days, he had worked his way up to the main event. When KINGDOM folded, Sakuraba followed Takada to the Pride Fighting Championships. In Sakuraba's second match in Pride he had what is considered the definitive grappling match in the history of the sport when he defeated Carlos Newton by rolling kneebar.
Kazushi's charisma was like that of his predecessor's but all the more entertaining, featuring pro wrestling holds and strikes during his matches, like knife-edge chops, Mongolian chops, double stomps, and came to the ring in tribute to some wrestler or another. Whether it be a Tiger Mask...mask, or Big Van Vader Suit, with air horn smoke blown out of the back, Kazushi always paid homage to the style he was brought up in. Pro Wrestling. Sakuraba's catch wrestling prowess helped to reverse helped the perception that Japanese wrestlers were inferior to Brazilin Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Beating 2 of the worlds best and drawing 1 helped reaffirm that. Each opponent possessing a 20lbs weight advantage of Sakuraba to boot.
Sakuraba was matched against Royler Gracie, Royler, unable to score a takedown, remained on the ground in an effort to bait Sakuraba into a grappling-oriented contest. Eventually, with less than two minutes remaining, Sakuraba finally engaged Royler on the ground, soon catching him in a Kimura, or Key Lock as it's known in Pro-Wrestling. As Sakuraba wrenched on the submission, the referee intervened with two second remaining on the clock, ending the contest and awarding Sakuraba the win by TKO.
Sakuraba's victory over Royler constituted the first loss by a Gracie in professional fighting in several decades and as such, sent ripples of shock and controversy through the mixed martial arts community. While the Japanese fight media rejoiced and elevated Sakuraba to superstar status, the Gracie family took great precedent over the incident, feeling that they had been cheated by Pride. Compelled to set the record straight and re-assert the dominance of his family, Royler's older brother and former UFC champion Royce Gracie returned to the sport of mixed martial arts in 2000.
Special rules were made for the Royce/Sakuraba fight, with no time limits, and only defeat by submission or knock out. Royce and Sakuraba battled for an hour and a half. Let me repeat, an hour and a half! Sakuraba nearly ended things with a knee-bar towards the end of the first round. Later on, Royce returned the favor with a guillotine choke which Sakuraba eventually escaped from.
As the confrontation stretched on, the Gracie's own no time-limit rules began to work against Royce as Sakuraba's wrestling skills and balance nullified Royce's ability to score a takedown. After the 90 minute battle of punishing leg kicks, Royce's brother threw in the towel.
The deed had been accomplished. Not Maeda, not Takada, not Tamura (too bad) but Sakuraba, the understudy's understudy's understudy, had legitimatized a form of fighting that had taken upwards of 15 years to see dominance. Sakuraba's wins were wins for not only UWF alum, but for wrestlers everywhere. It justified not only Maeda's form of wrestling as a legitimate form of pro grappling, but professional fighting period.
Legacy - Still Missing You. . . -- Style
The legacy of the original UWF, newborn, UWF-I, RINGS can still be felt to this very day.
The UWF's wrestling style has made inroads in its root promotion, New Japan among others. Natives Yuji Nagata, Koji Kanemoto, and The 21st Century Akira Maeda, Katsuyori Shibata (guy in the signature) use UWF-style kicks and submissions despite having never competed in a shoot-style promotions as their fellow wrestler Minoru Tanaka (BattleArts) did. Hard Kickers like Toshiaki Kawada, Shinya Hashimoto, and even everyone's favorite junior on either side of the pacific, KENTA can all trace a majority of their offence and "swagger" to the U-Style. Having U-Style background ties, in present day Japan are the equivalent of a wrestling VIP pass. Former GHC champion Yoshihiro Takayama and current All Japan Triple Crown title holder Minoru Suzuki have never lacked in heavyweight legitimacy with the Japanese audience, because of their background as straight up tough shoot fighters.
Kanemoto, Yugi Nagata, and Katsuyori Shibata all displaying their U-Style influence.
As the only form of puroresu to actually originate in Japan, the UWF was a pioneer. Although its roots were Antonio Inoki's wrestling style (in fact, Maeda, Sayama and Takada credit Inoki as their inspiration to become wrestlers), UWF made puroresu realistic and forced other promotions to follow. In fact, All Japan starting in 1989 abandoned count-out and disqualification finishes, which enabled its Triple Crown championship to arise. When put in perspective, without Maeda's vision, Baba may have never been forced to change his booking style and we perhaps would have never been blessed with the 5 star matches that came out of the Misawa vs. Kawada feud, or the 3 Musketeers of New Japan, that many consider cornerstones of professional wrestling. Wrestling safe havens, when a weekly program that comes on Monday Nights often makes its fans, become lesser fans. Who knows, without U-Style maybe we'd be running to RAW every night to get away from the non-finish, un-spectacular fest that could be major wrestling in Japan. Wrestling in Japan to simply put it, might not be Wrestling in Japan the way we think of it, had it not been for U-Style. You can see it in a guy like Rocky Romero in ROH who when not donning the Black Tiger attire in New Japan is just a submission machine, who can get the style across really well with guys like Bryan Danielson, Low Ki, Davey Richards etc..
Even Mixed Martial Arts themselves would not be an entity worth speaking of had it not be for U-Style. UWF made it possible for mixed-martial arts circuits to exist and be viable, as they showed that an audience would be willing to accept a combat sport as legit sport, and a profitable one. Obviously there had been mixed martial arts shows before, with varying levels of success, and vale tudo tournaments long before Pride ever arose, which you wouldn't necesssarily find on a website or anything, they still happened, just predate what we would consider modern MMA. The rise of how Pancrase evolved and so on is another column entirely, not necessarily for this particular forum
Without Takada's willingness to put his style on the line in the initial PRIDE show, it wouldn't have been possible for Takada's Pride and Maeda's K-1 promotions to copromote and draw 91, 000 fans in Japan. You've got to think about it on a grand scale. Lidell vs. Oritz II, super buyrate extraordinaire. Most people think of the managerial exploits of *groan* Dana White for that to be a possibility; or Royce Gracie for his contribution to the sport. My memory goes a little bit deeper than that. I watch the 10's of thousands of people packed into the Mandalay Bay and go, way to go Maeda.
It's sort of weird, coming from me, a 16 year old, to talk about how much he misses a style and a promotion that went defunct before he was even born. But the internet is a beautiful thing sometimes. It made me appreciate all the wrestling I have now. I never thought I could be entertained by a match that didn't have an Irish Whip, or tope rope splash, or ladder or even a pin. But seeing Nobuhiko Takada and Akira Maeda work hold for hold on the mat for 30 minutes makes me appreciate what wrestling was, is, and could be.
Probably why I love wrestlers like Katsuyori Shibata so much. He embodies everything the old UWF fighters did. The stiffness, renegade attitude, cocky, don't give a fuck-ism.A guy who came from the same dojo as the current young New Japan top stars, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura, but is seen as a more legitimate title contender, because of the style he employs and attitude behind it.
From the rear naked chokes, stiff kicks, armbars, and the like. I look at Shibata and think they're little Maeda. Hopefully he doesn't haul of and break anyone's orbital bone during a 6 man tag. But hey. . . stuff happens. It worked out okay last time.
Here's to U-Style. And that's a wrap. I'm out!
SPECIAL THANKS goes out to:
- Wikipedia the almighty. I don't know how I'd ever do these history columns without it.
- Shu Hirata, author of the column, Akira Maeda & RINGS THE DVDVR
- Dean Rasmuessen and The Ditch.
- And to those 2 guys are. Long Live Shootstyle
by Ben Acheampong (View/Submit your feedback here)..
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