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Rumblings of a RINGS Revival in Japan

  • Written by Dave Walsh

This isn't purely kickboxing, but more a general look at the world of MMA in Japan. Sure, FEG has rounded up some of their benefactors to help them with their latest venture, which means that we have at least one DREAM show planned and rumors of something going on with K-1. Outside of that, things in Japan are bleak at best. The sad truth is, for something to be popular in Japan there is a need for a figurehead, a public figure to help generate interest. If you look at someone like Antonio Inoki, he is still able to put on shows using his name alone to get TV contracts, advertising deals, sponsorships, top fighters and professional wrestlers to work with him.

In the same vein as Inoki is Akira Maeda. Akira Maeda was a huge professional wrestling star in the 80's and 90's, and one of the first to really push for martial arts to thrive on its own, outside of wrestling. Names like Akira Maeda, Nobuhiko Takada, Antonio Inoki, Satoru Sayama and Masa Funaki should roll off of the tongue for anyone who fancies themselves a MMA historian, and the irony in that is that each man made a name for themselves in the pre-scripted world of professional wrestling. Each man can be traced to a certain branch of the MMA lineage; Pancrase for Funaki, SHOOTO for Sayama, RINGS for Maeda and PRIDE for Takada. Inoki is in his own world, as he was the one that inspired everyone else and has had his nose stuck into every MMA and kickboxing venture to make it big in Japan.

Takada was the figurehead for PRIDE, and many will remember Takada as the guy with his ass hanging out, banging on the big drum to open up events. Takada can also be remembered from his early "fights" in PRIDE where ridiculous things happened under the guise of being a fight while it was a professional wrestling bout made to look realistic. Maeda worked closely with Takada for Maeda's UWF vision in the late 80's and early 90's before Takada went off to form UWF-i, when Maeda branched off to form RINGS. RINGS was the more serious endeavor than what Takada did, as it quickly branched off into real fights and left a lot of the Japanese pageantry out. Takada made a public challenge to the Gracies by way of sending Yoji Anjoh to the Gracie dojo to get publicly made a fool of, which sparked the first PRIDE card and one of Takada's many career losses. Regardless, PRIDE was huge and only got bigger.

The thing is, while all of that was happening in PRIDE, RINGS was doing something very real and a lot more serious. A lot of the fighters who fought in RINGS went on to be the absolute, undisputed best fighters in the world. If you are wondering who, here is a partial list of RINGS fighters who went on to bigger, better things; Renato "Babalu" Sobral, Ricardo Arona, Gilbert Yvel, Valentijn Overeem, Alistair Overeem, Elvis Sinosic, Fedor Emelianenko, Renzo Gracie, Antonio Rodrigo Nogeuira, Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes and Randy Couture.

So, reading this bit of news earlier today was mind-blowing. Akira Maeda was involved in FEG's "HERO*s" events as the figurehead before that fell apart due to FEG's seemingly constant stream of financial woes, then decided to create "The Outlaw" which serves as an amateur MMA breeding ground, kind of like SHOOTO. The Outsider shows tend to be a bit more gritty than your standard SHOOTO show and the fighters are a very different style from the international SHOOTO style. The thing is, Maeda is not wrong, someone needs to step up in Japan. Don Quijote, the company that was funding and then decided to pull out of Sengoku shows, leaving more uncertainty for fighters in Japan. No one is quite certain what will come of FEG and all of the affiliated promotions and SHOOTO is currently in disaster mode.

Akira Maeda has made a lot of solid, smart moves and is still surviving to this day, if not thriving. If there is anyone that I would trust to help nudge the fighting world in Japan back on the right path, it is Akira Maeda. Maybe he'll even pass on the Capture Suplex to someone other than Josh Barnett.

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