Ariake Colosseum, Tokyo
13th August, 1988
The second version of UWF thus far has comprised two tightly-run shows of three bouts apiece, with an established roster of six New Japan defectors and only one guest, that focus heavily on the establishment of the parameters of a completely new style of wrestling. They've been really great to watch.
Having quickly and clearly established himself as the king of the realm, Akira Maeda takes inspiration from his former boss Antonio Inoki by casting his net to the wide wide world of sports to find a man suitable to meet his mettle. What he reels in is something we will talk about down-post.
There is no reference to French filmmaker Chris Marker that I can ascertain from the opening shots. But there is definitely an aesthete rather than a salaryman with their hand on the tiller during the serious-looking press conference that begins our presentation. There's a strange formalist sensibility in play that words or even .gifs can't quite do justice to. Both in the framing of shots and the way the camera moves in this opening VT there is a real sense of geometry and angularity of bodies and structures that subtly suggests UWF is an aesthetic of parsimony and asceticism compared to the excesses of elsewhere. Where Pancrase is full of sex, as Hybrid Shoot contend, it is as if Maeda is trying to de-sex the UWF.
Whoever directed it has a strange sense of humour. The shots of Maeda & co. at a press conference are intercut with very brief shots of the Ariake Colosseum that cut back to the conference on the summoning of a sharply dramatic keyboard stab. I sense Maeda has discovered Peter Greenaway and his draughtsman's eye. Here is a clear-line heavy shot of Kazuo Yamazaki that could probably be drawn with five skilled strokes of a pencil.
The camera does a lap around the outside of the Ariake as footage of Maeda and his elite athlete opponent training at their respective dojos is intercut. As the UWF theme parps away in its inspirational major key, we then switch live to the Ariake itself and by jove on a hot August night with its retractable roof fully retracted it is quite a sight:
|THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE CAME TO SEE RIGHT HERE MAGGLE|
A visibly-shaking ring announcer hands over to not Maeda, but Nobuhiko Takada, who gives a gently charismatic oration in front of a crowd mostly attired in vests and shorts. There will be no pre-show parade of fighters. Points deducted.
The first match features two men I have never seen before. The first is Ri Sogi. In his video he seems like a nice and alert young lion type of dude which contrasts nicely with Katsumi Omura who frankly seems stoned. Sogi is 65kg to Omura's 60kg which seems like a lot for guys at the smaller end of things but that is the least of our concerns as OH MY LORD they are both wearing the 14-16oz gloves more commonly associated with the sport of boxing MAAAAAAAAEEEEEE-DAAAAAAAAA GET IN HERE!
This is shoot-boxing and we learn this because it is written on the posterior of Sogi. It seems that punches, kicks, and standing grappling is all completely allowed here. But when the fight goes to ground the referee stands both men up - so there is no ne waza in the slightest and this is quite a disappointing discovery but we will power on.
Also: this appears to be completely legitimate unless Omura is just the kind of unsafe asshole who drops an opponent on his head. Here is a .gif that I have taken from Legitshook's coverage of this event. I will not take too many more.
This is a vicious ass-beating by Omura for seven minutes. Sogi hits the canvas from strikes at an average of once per minute and while I suppose this one-sided not-wrestling is still reasonably entertaining (Sogi sticks his chin out and showboats indicating that maybe he is quite stupid actually considering the beating he gets) I also happen to know that we will never see either man in UWF again so I am less bothered about extensively reporting it. After bravely/stupidly getting up for the 7th time, Sogi staggers across the ring into a knee that the referee doesn't even bother to count.
|Katsumi Omura, Adventures in Vaporwave (Dream Catalogue, 2013)|
The next match sees much of the same fare as Makoto Ohe dominates Hideokazu Mikaku in a match that kickboxing fanatics can feel free to educate me on the intricacies of. However I feel that it can be summed up in one .gif despite going for about six minutes.
|DOWN I GO|
What is Maeda thinking here? I have no sources or historical evidence to back this up but my gut feeling is this: that in some way the booking of shoot-boxers is some kind of a shot at Satoru Sayama and his SHOOTO promotion. Sayama, now departed from the wrestling business and decrying its black-heartedness from the real-fighting arena, was now a hated enemy of Maeda. Of course, strange bouts incorporating unusual rulesets would make up a part of Maeda's RINGS promotion, so I am not suggesting there is no genuine love of other combat sports (presumably acquired from former boss Antonio Inoki). It just seems so strange and timely to be anything else. Not that Makoto Ohe cares:
|OHE, フローラルの専門店 (Vektroid, 2011)|
The balance in the universe is on its way to restoration as match three is an instant rematch of Shigeo Miyato vs. Tatsuo Nakano from the previous card. The 30-minute time-limit is teased by way of an introductory graphic. The first half of the match is a lot like the first half of the first match: cagey, tense, grapple-heavy, methodical, with some oohs and aahs at the wild swinging kicks that are far between.
The second half of the match continues much as the second half of the first match did (stay with me) with an increased workrate and desperation to finish things early. But a third gear is found with about five minutes to go as Miyato boots Nakano fully to the floor and follows up with a nasty flurry of kicks that send the crowd apoplectic.
From there it goes fully pro-wrestling drama and it is noticeable that the crowd are far more invested in this than they were the shoots at the top of the show. Exchanges of grisly suplexes are made including the Capture Suplex of which I did not know Akira Maeda is generally credited with inventing! Things go mad as Nakano catches Miyato with a shoot headbutt (see above) that creates this A+ visual when Miyato cinches in the half-crab for the win on about 19 minutes.
This was almost like the G1 Climax version of their previous one. The crowd love little Miyato and they cheer his name in unison. Nakano slumps tearfully at this loss and refuses Miyato's consolatory gesture at first until a referee (clad in quite a stylish horizontally-striped polo shirt) rebukes Nakano, who softens, hugging the victor and raising his hand. A post-match replay shows how Miyato used a stinging liver punch to throw Nakano off a kimura attempt before doing this:
Norman Smiley and Yoji Anjo return to face each other in both men's second UWF bouts. Smiley is interviewed:
Oh my future? As far as my future goes it is here in Japan. I hope to come back on a regular basis so I can wrestle in front of the Japanese fans. I feel that the Japanese fans are the most appreciative fans in the world and they really appreciate good wrestling. And definitely the UWF has the best wrestling in the world.I predict you'll go far in this business Norman!
This match does not quite click and for a great deal of the duration, while competent, is uninspired. The crowd care a lot for Anjo fighting away happily as the inexperienced and smaller man against the cerebral Smiley and I am glad their enthusiasm carried them through this.
|Norman Smiley, Normal Smiling (SST, 1985)|
Smiley wins after a brief period of Anjo carnage resulting in a way too cavalier gutwrench suplex. Anjo leaves his arm sticking out, Smiley grabs it, wakigatame, goodnight Anjo. As simple as that. The crowd are completely deflated at this turn of events but clap politely when Smiley celebrates his win. However the real victor is Yoji Anjo, who has mastered his Mick Jagger impersonation:
|"Eee'arr, Keef, Keef, can't do the voice...Keef."|
A break in the review to tell a story. After completing the previous entry, just before dusk on a balmy summer evening, a motorbike slowed on the ring road in front of my flat. The pillion rider took a brown paper parcel from inside of his leather jacket and in a smooth motion hurled it through the narrow gap of my open dining room window before motioning to the driver to speed away.
Hurriedly, I unwrapped the unmarked package. It was a manuscript written in a mixture of kanji and katakana script. With a strange mixture of disappointment and confusion, I put the tome down to begin cooking dinner.
But I could not shake the sensation that this was a transformative and important event. Later that evening, just as the sun was disappearing behind the houses to the rear, I returned to the manuscript and painstakingly attempted to translate the lettering - 前田明はイングランドで戦っている - on the front using a leading website. It says:
AKIRA MAEDA IS FIGHTING IN ENGLAND
My hands began to tremble. Was the great man coming out of retirement for one last run in Revolution Pro, Insane Championship Wrestling, World of Sport, PROGRESS, or perhaps even for one more go-around with Brian Dixon's All Star Promotions? I must know more, even if it takes me all night to learn the enigmas contained within these pages.
This hope appears to be scotched on page one. Every so often a date, all of which have long passed, will appear in bold type. These days indicating a chronological progression. Is this a diary that I have in my hands?
Time is at a premium so I have translated and cleaned up a section of the first page headed 1982年1月4日 (January 4th 1982)
Akira Maeda was at home in his third floor apartment in Yoyogi. The telephone that he had just bought after having a line installed rang. It was Kairi from the office. The bosses wanted to meet downtown but not at the dojo. A different place that Maeda did not know of. No name, just an address. 2pm. They did not care that it was a day off.
There was still time for a run around the park. Occasionally children paused, hanging limply from their mothers' palms, when they saw a Mizuno-jacketed Maeda jogging by. Some shouted MA-E-DA! after him. Maeda would never smile but occasionally he would raise his right fist and clench it tighter before affecting a sprint away.
Taking the Chiyoda line from Yoyogi-kōen to Akasaka, Maeda peered at the address scribbled down: 〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato, Roppongi, ５−４−２０. Still no idea. Emerging at street level and taking a series of back roads and featureless commercial streets, Maeda discovered the building. A large empty shell undergoing renovation. Workers in plastic helmets lifting and fetching. While looking for somebody who appears to be in charge, Maeda feels a rough hand clap on his shoulder before wheeling quickly around.
"I am sorry if I startled you Maeda-chan", laughed the man. Maeda scowled internally. Not the -chan business already.
"Sakaguchi-san." said Maeda wearily, bowing as little as he could get away with. "What is this place? You have brought me to a building site?"
"One of Kanji's big business ideas", half-mocked Sakaguchi. "This will be a big American restaurant! Guitars played by famous rock stars all over the wall they say. Maybe we will invest and have some wrestling memorabilia here too." As Sakaguchi was ending his sentence a familiar face emerged from behind a half-plastered pillar. Inoki-sama!
"Sir...I...I do not see what this has to do with me."
The great man took his spot next to Sakaguchi and took over the reins. "Maeda-kun. Takano-kun and you must go away to complete your education after the next tour. Takano will go to Mexico. You will go to Europe. Please ensure that your passport is in order. And buy a smart jacket."
Maeda did not know what to say. He knew that he should feel pleased that the next stage of his career was under way. He knew that he should feel excited that the company had showed so much faith in him. He bowed to Inoki out of habit but soon found himself speaking hurriedly. "What is in Europe? Robinson is in America. Gotch is here. Riley is dead. It is no longer great! It is false! It is silly entertainment!" After a moment of silence, his bosses laughed at Maeda's impetuousness.
Sakaguchi calmed his laughter and finally spoke. "You need to learn about yourself a little more, Maeda-kun!" The two older men laughed before walking away to inspect the kitchen area.
Well. This is quite a development! And it seems genuine, or at least the work of a skilled forger. I will provide updates as and when I can.
Nobuhiko Takada and Kazuo Yamazaki battle in the clash between two dudes already beaten by Akira Maeda. Takada delivers a pre-match interview in a vest that perhaps showing an early sartorial influence on WWF star Tugboat:
This is a really good match. Maybe the best UWF bout to date and I think if you are sufficiently deep in this review then you should probably look this up. The opening salvos have plenty of intensity to them, starting at higher lick than other matches have done.
It's also a match that has a clear fake-wrestling style story to it and that story is that Takada is a bit of a dick. He boots Yamazaki on the floor after referee-ordained break and he does this clearly rough piece of business which I think loads of companies should steal right now:
|anyone who has ever had a knee issue is wincing now|
Yamazaki rolls out of the ring in agony, selling hard. He gets back in and Takada is just frigging MERCILESS, booting the ever-loving life out of Yamazaki's leg. It is so great. Yamazaki just sells and screams and alters his stance when approaching a clinch to favour his bad leg but Takada is just like naaaah not fooling me like THAT mate and keeps on after it.
The place comes unglued late in the piece when Yamazaki, straight after being Dragon Suplexed, throws a desperation high kick that detonates on Takada's temple for a close count:
The marbles are rolling around in Takada's head but he carries on purely on instinct, eating a messy wheel kick and taking another brief count. Yamazaki goes steaming in and throws a great German Suplex for a two count (okay...) and then when Takada gets up, Yamazaki goes right foot -> left temple followed by left foot -> right temple. Takada collapses in a heap and Yamazaki covers for a traditional 3-count which is bloody confusing but also a perfect end to a great match.
I think just on a character/wrestler basis these two are my favourite UWFers so far. Plenty of time to change and everyone is still in with a chance provided they don't shoot-box. To celebrate this high-calibre affair, let's have a bonus image which I could not narrate around:
Of course, Yamazaki understandably looks delighted to have won:
|Yamazaki, Canine Tricycle Bereavement (Matador, 1992)|
In the semi-main event we have something more akin to a WWE-style piss-break match as shoot-boxing pioneer Cesar Takeshi knocks Paryhap Premchai out in a complete mismatch. Takeshi deflects Premchai's high kicks with his glove and then throws a Bas Rutten-approved liver kick just after the 2 min mark that sends Premchai down in stages:
The main event then, is between High Priest of the Radical Orthodox Church of UWF Akira Maeda and his skilled guest - the fabled Dutch karate wizard and savate sorcerer Gerard Gordeau. Here he is in sharp profile at the beginning of disc 2 of this visual feast:
|perhaps considering the Gor-dos and Gor-deaunts|
An event featuring Dhr. Gordeau that would take place in the future (from the perspective of 1988) but was written about in the past (from the perspective of now) by TK Scissors does not inspire the greatest of hope for this bout.
Our first three-minute round (of a scheduled five) is unremarkable enough, especially if you are me and know the absolute least anyone who has watched as much fighting as I have can know about kickboxing (I know nothing). But the second falls apart completely and unmistakably: after a rope break in the corner in which Gordeau seems determined to get some shit in as the referee works to separate them, Gordeau walks lazily back to his corner and, en route, has a breezy conversation with his coach, I guess? The referee calls "Gordeau! Gordeau!" to get his attention, but he doesn't really have it. Satake throws a kick to the legs when Gordeau is not super duper ready for it (I still don't understand why that might be), and, with his cornerman now up on the apron (I have no idea), Gordeau loses it and starts unloading on Satake with the very sort of closed fists to the face I do not need to remind you are prohibited in this lordly realm of RINGS. Chris Dolman hops up in a neutral corner, a young Japanese I am unable to identify beyond that cursory description utterly flies across the ring to intercept, and that is very, very much a DQ finish at 2:13 of the second round. Satake is bloodied, angry, and eager to fight on, but that's not about to happen. Gordeau attempts some late-breaking sportsmanship, apologetically raising Satake's hand, but on the whole this Gordeau still worries me kind of a lot, and it's not getting better. http://tkscissors.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/rings-12592-mega-battle-kaiten.html
It also does not augur well that while Gordeau is barefoot and in boxing gloves, Akira Maeda is in his classic black trunks and UWF-branded boots. But Gordeau was at least in Maeda's graces sufficiently to be invited back at a later date so let us not dismiss this one out of hand. Gordeau speaks in the phlegmatic way many Dutch speak the English language. Let us capture his words:
I want to do it in the first round but he's a strong person. I want to do it in the first round but I've seen him training, it will be a difficult fight. [unintelligible] I want to beat Maeda and become #1 of Japan.
Fair enough Gerard. But what are these 'rounds' of which you speak? Oh dammit.
Round one is mostly pulled strikes thrown, imitating the feeling-out process of prizefights (I put money on Conor vs. Floyd having an early feel similar to this. That is right, betting on abstract emotions, the new neknomination). It is largely insipid until Maeda clumsily shoots low. Gordeau, even in dumb boxing gloves, blocks Maeda's advance before stiffing him on the floor in a way that makes Maeda's UWF-shirted cornermen rage.
Round 2 is heralded by a girl bearing a placard with 'Round 2' written on it, perhaps defeating my UWF as sexless theory up-post. Maeda keeps up his low shooting idea, GG fends off with fists. Even though Gordeau is pulling every shot his mastery of throwing strikes is apparent, particularly next to the slightly clumsy Maeda. Gordeau barrels forward with knees that look a little snappier and less friendly than his fists. Under pressure, Maeda makes the first bit of real magic happen, scooping Gordeau for a lovely Shinsuke Nakamura-style reverse powerslam:
|KING OF SHOOT STYLE|
When both men recover, Gordeau hits a kick from a prone position and dives in for a boxing gloved choke. What it lacked in finesse it made up for in believability and to a certain extent humour. The round ends wildly: first Gordeau pastes Maeda up against the ropes to the point where he looks beaten, only for Maeda to hit a desperate ogoshi into a juji-gatame. Gordeau looks wild-eyed but is saved by the bell. This is good!
Round three begins with precisely the same sequence from a barrage of rough Gordeau knees to a Maeda ogoshi though this time Gordeau turns hard and ends up in the mount position but fortunately for Maeda, in a rope break. After a solid minute against the ropes eating knees and fists, Maeda hits the double leg takedown (morote gari) and tries desperately to secure the kimura. Though it fails, he tries the same thing again after being stood up a few seconds later. Toward the end of the round Gordeau cracks Maeda with a kick to the face. The referee smartly intervenes at this juncture, sensing Gordeau might be straining at the leash. Maeda takes a count on one knee. As he recovers his breath, Gordeau taunts him from a neutral corner. The round ends.
|BONA FIDE HUSTLER MAKIN MY WAY|
Round four sees Gordeau come straight out with a kick that Maeda catches and turns into a smart achilles hold. Gordeau makes the ropes, stands, throws the same kick, which Maeda catches and turns into yet another smart achilles hold/ankle lock, and there's the finish! Gordeau's boxing gloves pounds the mat as if to say uncle and yet again against all odds Akira Maeda has established the supremacy of pro-wrestling over another form of combat sport! And what a surprisingly good match that was too!
|Akira Maeda, The Death of Kwik Kick Lee (Sony Japan, 2017)|
That's three good shows out of three for the new UWF. What could derail this freight train of success? Please join me for future editions to find out.
NEXT TIME: Akira Maeda and Kazuo Yamazaki meet again!