Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda | How Their Fight Turned REAL in Japan

Sometimes things don’t go as planned come bell time. Take, for instance, the time Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda met in Japan in May of ’86. On one side of the ring, you had a giant who showed up to the venue drunker than usual, and on the other, a man who was building a reputation of someone hard to do business with if things didn’t go the way he thought they should. Having these two in the ring together created a possibility for volatility, and much like a forest fire, it only needed a spark.

Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda - How Their Fight Turned REAL in Japan
When Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda met in the ring in May of ’86, things did not go to plan.

One thing about the business that captures the attention of many wrestling fans is that sometimes things could go wrong and might not seem the way they’re supposed to. When the train goes off the rails, not only do accidents occur, history gets made.

Let’s turn the clock back to the spring of ’86 and talk about an altercation that occurred in a New Japan Pro Wrestling ring between who Gorilla Monsoon dubbed the immovable object, and a rising shoot fighter growing in the Japanese ranks. 

Andre the Giant and Akira Maeda – What Really Happened

Working for a short while in Great Britain under the name Kwik Kik-Lee, it was during his time at the Japanese Universal Wrestling Federation where Akira Maeda began to stand out as an adept shoot wrestler and mat technician. His reputation became one of great pride and little patience.

Andre the Giant was in the latter part of his career and in significant pain, so alcohol was his vice. That said, he did not take disrespect to the business lightly.

‬What started as a disagreement between NJPW owner Antonio Inoki and Maeda a few months prior over an angle that Maeda refused to work led to what occurred in the ring with Andre. 

The no-nonsense Akira Maeda dropkicks Antonio Inoki
The no-nonsense Akira Maeda dropkicks Antonio Inoki

Maeda himself was nurturing a reputation of someone hard to do business with if things didn’t go the way he thought they should.‭ ‬He looked at himself as a wrestling purist‭ ‬and wanted to keep everything between those ropes as real as possible. When Andre showed up to the Hiroshima Perfectual Gymnasium a little drunker than usual,‭ ‬Inoki saw his chance to take advantage of the situation by putting into Andre’s ear that he wanted Maeda‭ “‬straightened out‭.”‭  

‬While we do not know if Maeda got wind of what was going to happen, it is apparent from available footage that early on in the match, he knew things weren’t going to go the way they were supposed to. Maeda was never able to get the full finish to the match from Andre before bell time, and he was unsure whether or not Andre was going to put him over (or allow him to win). According to wrestling folklore, Andre would only sometimes let the finish of his matches be known before it was time to go in the ring, but only to wrestlers who had earned his respect. On this night, Andre had something in mind which led Maeda to go into business for himself.

Watch Andre the Giant vs. Akira Maeda, a match which turned into a shoot fight in Japan on May 26, 1986:

As Andre the Giant stumbled and lumbered around the ring, Akira Maeda grew increasingly incensed by the situation. Quicker and more agile than The Giant, he was able to elude the big mauling grasps, and even double-leg the big man to the mat several times. As each man grew angrier, the match continued to fall apart.

Frenchy Bernard, who often was the referee for Andre’s matches and traveled with him whenever he was working overseas, had lost control at this point. Maeda had taken Andre to the mat and placed a variety of submission holds on him but the big giant would not cooperate. It was then that Maeda decided to start leveling strong shin kicks to Andre’s thighs and knees. With each slap that rang out through the arena, you could see the grimace on Andre’s face as the pain shot up to his thighs. If there is one constant in the fight game, it’s that any time somebody is bigger than you, you can always take them out at the knees — which is precisely what Maeda intended to do. 

While Andre began to succumb to the pain, his patience also began to deteriorate. With each missed grasp at his opponent, he grew more frustrated with the situation, until finally he just laid down in the ring and motioned for Maeda to pin him. Doing so fueled Maeda’s anger even further as he looked outside to the New Japan official with bewilderment. Finally, amongst this chaos, Inoki made his way to the ring to try and possibly salvage, if he could at this point, some semblance of a match or at least a distinct undeniable finish.

Inoki’s arrival achieved the exact opposite effect. When Maeda saw Inoki on the ring apron, he came apart, climbing out of the ring in disgust, and taking his frustrations out on an innocent metal barricade at ringside before walking to the back. The entire match was left in a cloud of confusion. 

The Fallout

Following the cluster of a match with Andre the Giant, Akira Maeda left New Japan to go back to the UWF and forge forward with the brand created on real wrestling and less on big card pageantry. For Andre, this was a period shortly after WrestleMania II. He would soon return to WWF as a heel after leaving as maybe one of the biggest babyfaces in the history of the company. It would start his run toward the title at WrestleMania III with Bobby Heenan at his side and Hulk Hogan firmly in his sights. The fallout for Inoki was negligible, as New Japan Pro Wrestling continued to grow in the shadow of this incident. Needless to say, there would be no growing friendship between himself and Maeda in future business endeavors.

Here are some stories of other times things did NOT go as planned in the ring:


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Jim Phillips
Jim Phillips is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories. He's been a wrestling fan since the late '70s and a journeyman writer for the past decade. You can see his bylines on TheGorillaPosition.com where he works as Senior Editor. He can be reached by e-mail at squints72hhi@gmail.com.