The Original U

Alan Lee
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Over 21 years ago, five active wrestlers left Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion to form what was at that time Universal Pro Wrestling. El Gran Hamada (an esteemed Japanese luchador who studied lucha libre in Mexico for a number of years with the UWA promotion of Ben Mora, and a member of New Japan Dojo's original graduating class), Rusher Kimura (the former "King of Cage Matches" in Japan who was the top ace of the defunct International Wrestling Enterprises before heading to New Japan), Ryuma Go (the controversial comedy wrestler whom Mick Foley discusses in his book, Have a Nice Day), Mach Hayato (who was an inspiration for future SHOOTO Middleweight King, Hayato Mach Sakurai), and Akira Maeda would hold their first card on April 11, 1984, a day after their promotion was formed.

Soon afterwards, Yoshiaki Fujiwara (another New Japan Dojo first class graduate), and a young three year New Japan rookie, Nobuhiko Takada join the organization. The original ace of the company who was chosen to be the marquee draw was Akira Maeda, whose charisma drew in many "pops" from the fans However, this all changed on 06/28 of that year when Kazuo Yamazaki, and the top drawing junior heavyweight worker of New Japan, the original "Tiger Mask", Satoru Sayama joined Universal. Sayama's entrance to the company (though not completely in itself, but symbolically) will prove to radically change the course of professional wrestling and in some ways, how people view wrestling, and the martial arts and sciences.

The "First Martial Arts Boom"

The UWF and what would become Japanese Shooting and Shootstyle Wrestling, developed though many factors. New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the company where most of the UWF's workers were originally from was a "traditional" worked pro-wrestling (with bumps, spots, and chain wrestling not too different from that of American promotions of the 1980s and the current WWE). However, a "traditional" promotion of that era entailed much more gym matches than that of this era, and had a strong emphasis on the use of Catch hooks.

Catch Wrestling was originally introduced to Japan roughly due to the challenge matches won by Adolph Ernst, more popularly known as Ad Santel (although this has been debated much in recent years by wrestling historians as Japanese jujitsu practitioners Yukio Tani, and "Conte Koma" Mitsuyo Maeda (who was Carlos Gracie Sr's teacher), as well as Sorakichi Matsuda, a Sumo rikishi all practiced Catch-As-Catch-Can or participated in said matches). However, it was not until after World War II that Rikidozan, aka Mitsuhiro Momota real name, Kim Sin-Nak, a North Korean adopted by a Japanese family, who was a sumo rikishi, brought pro-wrestling to the Japanese mainstream with his Japanese Wrestling Alliance promotion.

Momota, who was trained in the United States at the legendary Shriner's Club, had many legendary matches with such men as Judo legend, Masahiko Kimura (whom he shot on, supposedly because they started saying racist derogatory comments about each other during the match, to win the Japan Heavyweight Title), Lou Thesz (whom he draws a full-house of 30,000 paid against), and Dick "the Super Sensational Destroyer" Beyer (whom he drew a 64% TV rating with).

Rikidozan on a trip to Brazil met a young Kanji Inoki, who immigrated to Sao Paulo at the age of 11. The young Inoki debuted as "Antonio" Inoki on Septmber 30, 1960. After Rikidozan is killed at the age of 39 in December of 1963, due to a stab wound induced by yakuza whom he had business agreements with, Inoki, and his contemporary and colleague, the 6'11 Japanese wrestling legend, Shohei "Giant" Baba were the top stars until Antonio Inoki is expelled for attempting a coup on December 13, 1971; he did so because they refused to put him in a title match program with Baba, who was the heavyweight champ. Enraged, Inoki forms New Japan Pro-Wrestling on March 06, 1972. New Japan's top foreign worker was Karl "Gotch" Istaz. In fact, Karl main evented New Japan's first show against Antonio Inoki, whom he beat with a suplex (but not his famous "German" Suplex). He was also their trainer at the Dojo. Karl Gotch, a student of the famed Wigan Snakepit of Lancashire Catch wrestling, was most known at the time not only for his great technical ability but also, according to rumors, for brawling with then NWA World Heavyweight Champion, the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in the locker room. Karl left to tour Japan, where he became known as "the God of Wresling," after numerous battles with the aforementioned Rikidozan.

At the New Japan Dojo, Karl taught the dojo students his training regiment, including his amazing bridge, and of course, his ground techniques he learned at Wigan. Inoki continued to train with Gotch as well, as he had an avid interest in the martial arts and sciences.

Two years after the formation of New Japan, Muhammed Ali, the legendary World Heavyweight Champion of Boxing, challenged "any Oriental Fighter" in February of 1975. An enraged Antonio Inoki responds a month later as the story goes. What actually seemed to have been happening beyond public view is that Inoki was attempting to negotiate for Ali to "put him over" (or give him a big credible win) in a worked pro-wrestling match.

Ali, whose body had taken a toll from his fights with Joe Frazier and George Foreman was interested in doing a match with Inoki but was not too keen on losing as he wanted a win to reinvigorate his career (and big payoff of course). Inoki, in the mean time, began his "World's Top Martial Artist Deciding Match" series with legite fighters in modified pro-wrestling matches. His first "challenger" was Dutch Olympic Judo Gold Medallist, Wilheim Ruska at the famed Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, on February 06, 1976. After 20:56, Inoki finally "beat" Ruska via TKO with a "Backdrop" Suplex.

After this match, Ali finally agreed, in March, to do a match with Inoki on June 26, 1976. A few days before the match, while Inoki and Ali were going over the match, Ali came to the realization that Inoki may "double-cross" him and shoot on hi. Thus they went back to the drawing board, and changed the match to a "shoot" where Ali would fight with boxing rules and Inoki, in wrestling attire, strike with open hands, but not throw any kicks above he waist, or attempt submissions or throws of any sort.

Thus on the destined date, Inoki butt scooted through 11 rounds and shin-kicked Ali throughout. It was deemed one of the most overrated and boring matches of all-time soon afterwards, became a mockery in the US, and damaged New Japan's gates for months to come. Undaunted, Inoki continued to have matches with numerous martial artists including: PKA kickboxing champ, "Monsterman" Everett Eddie, boxer Chuck Wepner, and finally Kyokushin Karate champ, Willie Williams. Inoki also imported a number of other martial artists to work matches in his organization including Brazilian Jujitsu black belt (and Carlson Gracie training partner), Ivan Gomes, and Canadian Judoka, "Bad News" Allen Coage.

At the time of the martial arts challenge matches, a number of young prospects graduated out of the dojo. Yoshiaki Fujiwara, was among the first class of New Japan Dojo graduates of 1972, at the age of 22. Just before he graduated from this Dojo, he attended Chuo University, a top University for grapplers in Japan, and was a member of the Judo team there.

A very technical grappler, and loyal student of Inoki, he cornered Inoki as his second in the Ali match. Akira Maeda, who graduated in 1977, was an aspiring karateka until Hisahi Shinma, the New Japan promoter scouted him and promised him the grand vision of becoming Inoki's successor as New Japan's top star (which is even a funny promise today), and a legend in the martial arts world. Maeda immediately seized the opportunity and went to train with Karl Gotch in the US, and then after opening many New Japan shows, went to England, billed "Kwik-Kiwk Lee" to learn the British style of pro wrestling.

A young Judoka and Karateka, Satoru Sayama quit high school at the age of 17 to graduate from the Dojo and debut at the age of 19. At the age of 20, he lost a shoot mixed rules match promoted by Inoki at the Nippon Budokan, November 17, 1977, to Mark Costello, a US kickboxer. Though unsettled by his loss, Sayama, a fan of the famed luchador, Mil Masacras (who is the uncle of current PRIDE fighter Dos Caras Jr), Sayama was overjoyed to be sent to Mexico to Salvador Lutheroth's CMLL promotion in 1978 where he diligently studied lucha libre, Mexico's aerial style of pro-wrestling.

Like the previous two, Sayama also studied under Karl Gotch in the Dojo. On April 23, 1981, Satoru Sayama donned the mask of the popular anime (cartoon) and manga (comic) superhero, Tiger Mask, and history is made as he was and is known as one of the original innovators of the light-heavyweight style of pro-wrestling.

Unfortunately, all three men were unsatisfied with where they were: Fujiwara was unhappy being a low-level worker not moving too far up the card; Maeda, was unhappy doing worked matches against people whom he felt were not true martial artists; and Sayama was unhappy with his considerably low-pay despite the amazing matches he had with the likes of "The Dynamite Kid" Tom Wellington. Things came to head when Inoki and his business partner Hisashi Shinma were caught embezzling the company's money to fund an experimental project which recycled animal manure to animal feed, and Inoki and Shinma were expelled for a few months after a coup within the company in 1983. Thus, Sayama retired that year whereas Maeda and Fujiwara bided their time with Shinma until he formed the UWF. The Original U(WF) and Its Brief Life

The UWF was originally like any professional wrestling organization until Fujiwara, Takada, Yamazaki, and Sayama joined Maeda and Hayato. Then, within a few months these men came to a conscious decision to "return wrestling" back to its roots. Gone would be the top-rope techniques, the choreographed bumps, and the disqualification endings. Thus Go, Kimura, and Hamada left to All-Japan Pro Wrestling (of Giant Baba) as well.

However, stiff strikes and an extra emphasis on groundwork would take priority in their work. Because of this, Osamu Kido, a colleague of Inoki whom debuted in the JWA in 1968 joined the roster on Septmber 11, of that year. Within the time of the UWF's first year, Masami Soranaka, Karl Gotch's son-in-law, a Karateka, Judoka, and Sumo-tori became the organization's first true-born graduate. The organization would also hire very technical mat-savvy wreslters such as Mark Lewin, Phil Lafon (of Can-Am Express fame) and Dean "Malenko" Simon (whose family Karl is close to) to work with the calibre of the UWF's talent. Unfortunately, this experiment had its drawbacks backstage. Akira Maeda, the ace of the promotion, was not able compromise with Satoru Sayama's interests (Sayama wanted to be the ace also). Thus 14 months after the promotion's premiere April 10, 1984 show, things came to a boiling point on September 02, 1985. On that show, which would prove to be the UWF's semifinal show, during a match between Akira Maeda and Satoru Sayma, Maeda would kick Sayama with all his power below the waist, of which Sayma would sell as low blows.

Sayma would then attempt to strike Maeda harder than what was called for and a scuffle supposeldy ensued. Because of this escalation Maeda left the UWF and the UWF had its last card 9 days later when Sayama left as well. Kido, Takada, Yamazaki, Fujiwara, and Maeda would return to New Japan in 1986, as part of a "UWF Invasion."