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[1989-11-29-UWF] Akira Maeda vs Willy Wilhelm


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Here we are, at the peak of Akira Maeda's tumultuous career, main eventing his group's biggest show, against 1984 Judo Olympian and World Championship silver medalist Willy Wilhelm. The UWF has seen heretofore unimaginable growth over the past 18 months, selling out (in order of capacity) Tokyo Bay NK Hall, Ariake Coliseum, Nippon Budokan, Yokohama Arena and Osaka Baseball Stadium over the period, all while putting on a mere 17 shows in total.

Higher stakes are at play here as they attempt to capitalise upon this incendiary popularity, promoting their biggest venue yet by a hefty margin - the cavernous 60,000-seat Tokyo Dome dwarfing Osaka Stadium's 32,000 capacity. The premises are familiar; Maeda challenging a large Dutch fellow with celebrated grappling skills. Sure, Chris Dolman couldn't do the job, but Wilhelm has credentials to make even the most ardent Maeda fan doubt his hero's chances. As "Captured" rings out of the house speakers, the entire arena rallies behind our coiffed, wheel-kicking superstar, shaking the building with their chants. The question is, can he do it again - this time on the biggest stage of his career?

Topped off with a shellacking of young Kiyoshi Tamura at the last show in Sapporo a month prior, and breaking the promising rookie's orbital bone in the process, Maeda has looked unbeatable, having not lost throughout the entire year of 1989 and, as if he really needed it, solidifying his spot as the clear #1 in the company ahead of this momentous bout. I don't know much around what led to bringing in Wilhelm apart from maybe the prior Dolman-UWF connection, but this is where the Dutch involvement in shoot style really takes off (3 of the 7 matches on this show feature a Netherlander). My immediate impression of Wilhelm is that he looks like a continental Stan Hansen if he was raised on Edam, farm work and the music of Doe Maar. As they square off, Wilhelm shows off his size advantage, responded in kind by trademark Akira Maeda apathy - aside from occasionally raging at perceived disrespect towards him, is there anything he actually cares about? I suppose that was a big part of the appeal.

We are working with a 10 x 3 minute round format here. The first round starts off slowly with Maeda pulling Wilhelm to the ground from behind, eventually moving to half guard before Wilhelm hits the ropes and Mr Soranaka stands both gentlemen up. Maeda tries for a harai-goshi but Wilhelm has none of it, landing right on top in back control, before transitioning to north-south. They jostle a while, Wilhelm aimlessly caresses Maeda's leg for a bit, before transitioning into our first jūji-gatame attempt of the bout. Alas, the ropes thwart Willy, with Maeda soon attempting a single-leg takedown upon the restart. Wilhelm fights it off briefly but loses position, giving Maeda the chance at an armbar of his own, however the long leg of Wilhelm stretches far enough to reach the ropes, returning us to a standup battle in the final minute of the round. On securing a plum clinch of sorts, Maeda rattles off a couple of feeble knees, only to have the last one caught by Wilhelm who duly plants him on the mat and takes mount. Predictably, he tries another armbar, but doesn't have time to finish it as the bell rings. An entertaining round, both men looked strong and it'd be a hard one to judge if this were a legitimate contest. More importantly, the crowd are into it.

Round 2 begins with Willy going straight for the clinch with Maeda who obliges, sensing fatigue in his dance partner. Wilhelm goes for a tomoe-nage but rather easily gives up his back, however Maeda fails to do much with it and ends up compromising himself into yet another armbar attempt, which he is able to slip out of due to Wilhelm waning stamina - after all, we are half a decade past the Dutchman's peak as a competitive judo player, and in the zen-senshu-nyuujou, he's sporting a formidable gut underneath his marl-grey U-Cosmos event t-shirt. Maeda evidently picks up on Willy's tiredness, landing a leg scissors takedown straight into a heel hook, conveniently just far away enough from any of the ropes to provide salvation. After yelping in rather convincing pain for a few seconds, Wilhelm has no choice but to tap, giving Maeda the biggest notch in his bedpost to date, and an even bigger trophy - seriously, this thing is almost as tall as Maeda himself. It would not surprise me to learn that such an ornament was ordered by show sponsor Megane Super's Hachiro Tanaka himself, knowing the soon-to-be-SWS boss's penchant for vacuous grandeur.

Overall the match itself is very enjoyable for what it is, a showcase of the promotion's biggest star overcoming the formidable challenge of an established (foreign) martial artist and proving that UWF is quite clearly the most effective style for mixed fighting. This was the theme for the entire show as, save for the dark match, every bout pitted a member of the UWF roster against an overseas talent. If a second Dome show had ever come to fruition, I'd have liked to see a conventional format with perhaps another Maeda/Takada match on top, and for once, Kazuo Yamazaki not being jobbed out when it matters. Nonetheless, while far from the best match this group has put on so far, it is their most important, and so deserves a watch on that merit. Onwards to 1990!

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