|Ring name(s)||Maeda Akira|
|Real name||Maeda Akira|
Kakutō-ō (格闘王)(Martial Art King)
|Billed height||192 cm (6 ft 31⁄2 in)|
|Billed weight||115 kg (250 lb; 18.1 st)|
Maeda Akira (前田 日明) is a fight promoter, trainer, former professional wrestler, and mixed martial arts competitor.
He is known as a pioneer of the mixed martial arts in Japan. He was also successful as a promoter of the MMA events, and his knowledge has been inherited in the K-1 events.
His birth name was Koh Il-Myung (Korean: 고일명, Kanji: 高日明), as he was born a third-generation Zainichi Korean (or person maintaining his Korean nationality, although permanently residing in Japan).
Maeda's interest in martial arts developed as a schoolboy while watching the Ultraman television series. By the time he was in high school, his only interests were motorcycles and karate.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling (1978-1984)
Maeda was scouted by Satoru Sayama and joined the New Japan Pro-Wrestling dōjō in 1978. His debut was against his shishō Yamamoto Kotetsu on 1978/8/25 in Nagaoka, Niigata. In New Japan, "前田 明", a different kanji combination, was used for his ring name.
Like many other rookies, Maeda embarked on a foreign tour to the United Kingdom, where he adopted the Kwik-kik Lee moniker, billed as a younger brother of Sammy Lee (Sayama). After winning the European Heavyweight Championship, he returned to Japan in 1983 and participated in the first International Wrestling Grand Prix league, won by Hulk Hogan. He was one of four Japanese entrants to the international tournament, alongside Antonio Inoki, Killer Khan, and Rusher Kimura. However, Kimura was a last minute replacement for one of the Canadian representatives Dino Bravo who returned home right before the league started, and Maeda represented Europe with his championship.
By request from New Japan, he became a Japanese citizen in 1983.
Universal Wrestling Federation (1984-1985)
Main article: Universal Wrestling Federation
Maeda and other New Japan defectors such as Rusher Kimura, Gran Hamada, and Gō Ryūma as well as Mach Hayato, a former IWE wrestler, were the original members of the newly-founded Universal Wrestling Federation in 1984. Few months after its first card, Fujiwara Yoshiaki and Takada Nobuhiko left New Japan to join the group.
Upon joining the UWF, he changed his ring name back to his real name "前田 日明".
Sayama also joined the group in the same year; however, there would soon be a disagreement over the style ideology between Sayama and other wrestlers including Maeda and Fujiwara. Sayama left the UWF, and soon after, the promotion folded in 1985. In 1985/12, Maeda, along with most of the UWF wrestlers, returned to New Japan, where he became one of the promotion's biggest stars.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling (1985-1988)
He became involved in a real-life feud with New Japan president and top star, Antonio Inoki, refusing to work with him in what could have been a huge moneymaking program.
On 1986/4/29, he was involved in one of the most surreal moments in wrestling history during a match with André the Giant; neither man could agree to losing the match, and Maeda proceeded to shoot-kick André's legs and then back off, while the giant repeatedly blocked Maeda's attacks. After 20 minutes of this, André voluntarily laid down to be pinned (in spite of being assured that Maeda would lose the match), but Akira refused to do so. Inoki eventually came to the ring and demanded the match to end, much to the bewilderment of the audience.
Maeda had a mixed martial arts match against a kickboxer Don Nakaya Nielsen on 1986/10/9 at Ryōgoku Kokugikan in Tōkyō. The main event, another MMA match between Inoki and boxer Leon Spinkins, turned out to be a disappointment, and Maeda's match became one of the most memorable matches in his career.
On 1987/11/19 during a six-man tag team match, as Chōshū Riki was putting his opponent, Kido Osamu, in a Scorpion Deathlock, Maeda delivered a legitimate kick to Chōshū's face, breaking his orbital bone. The resulting injury would sideline Chōshū for well over a month. Maeda was suspended, and when he was asked by New Japan to go to Mexico, he refused it and fired.
The second UWF (1988-1990)
Main article: UWF (2nd)
In 1988, Maeda formed the second UWF. Soon after, Takada, Yamazaki Kazuo, and others joined before the first card. Maeda, this time, was its number one star, using the notoriety he gained in New Japan to draw large crowds. Maeda's UWF became the first promotion to hold a show at the Tokyo Dome, drawing 60,000 to watch Maeda defeat Willy Wilhelm in the main event. In 1990/12, the second UWF dissolved due to disagreements over the direction of the company.
In mixed martial arts
Fighting Network RINGS (1991-1999)
Maeda would go on to form Fighting Network RINGS in 1991, while Fujiwara and some of his close deshi formed Professional Wrestling Fujiwara-gumi, and Takada and most of the UWF roster started UWF International. RINGS would never billed itself as a pro-wrestling organization.
In 1999 he retired from active competition after being defeated in a match against three-time Olympic Gold medalist Alexander Karelin, drawing an incredible gate of $2.5 million. The match gained widespread media coverage, including mentions in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.
Following Maeda's retirement, he switched his promotion's style from shoot-style to competitive mixed martial arts fighting. The new RINGS held two "King of Kings" tournaments, which introduced such mixed martial artists as Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Randy Couture, Jeremy Horn and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira to the Japanese audience. RINGS folded in 2002, due to the growing popularity of PRIDE.
When K-1 wanted to start a new Mixed Martial Arts group after their previous attempt with Romanex, FEG (the group that owns K-1) hired Maeda as a consultant for the new group called HERO'S. However, FEG retired HERO'S in 2008/2 to team up with former PRIDE staff to create DREAM. Maeda's newest project is called "The Outsider", an amateur MMA group that uses HERO's rules with kids from street gangs.