Andre the Giant vs. Akira Maeda; History of Pro Wrestling Shoots, Part 2
WWE Hall of Famer Andre the Giant lay on his back near the ring ropes, his arms outstretched, appearing to mouth the words "pin me." The restless crowd had just seen a dreary match where little happened.
Men rushed the ring, shouting at each other and the fans were as confused then as we are today.
Andre's battle against Akira Maeda on May 26, 1986 was an embarrassing display. Who the brunt of the blame belongs to is still debated some 20-plus years later.
Was it a case of a drunk giant refusing to cooperate or an attempt to discredit Maeda by making him look foolish?
There is little hard evidence to go on. We can only watch the match itself, take the two wrestlers' histories into account and try to understand the incident ourselves.
A wrestler of Korean descent, Maeda (real name: Go Il-myeong) spent the majority of his career in Japan. The Karl Gotch-trained wrestler founded Fighting Network Rings and was involved heavily with the Universal Wrestling Federation.
Maeda would go onto become a member of the inaugural Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame class.
It's not his matches with Antonio Inoki, Hulk Hogan or Paul Orndorff that fans will remember, but instead his penchant for turning pro wrestling matches into real-life fights.
Maeda developed a reputation for being difficult and dangerous to work with. He once kicked Riki Choshu in the eye, breaking his orbital bone.
He also had a reputation for having a negative attitude toward American wrestlers and the WWE. So there was possibly some animosity toward Andre before the match began.
Andre is, of course, the far more famous of the pair.
His match vs. Maeda happened before Hulk Hogan and Andre's WrestleMania III clash and after Andre's body had begun to break down, slowing him, robbing him of some of the grace and athleticism he had during his prime.
The crowd buzzed before the match, far more vocal than the average Japanese pro wrestling audience. Andre towered over Maeda, who at 6'3'' is no runt.
Andre pounced first, pressing his massiveness onto Maeda after an awkward takedown.
As the match progressed, it was increasingly clear that something was off. The action's momentum stuttered.
Andre wobbled around the ring, dazed.
For a man so famous for being able to drink inhuman amounts of alcohol, it's hard to imagine him too drunk to stand properly. It appeared that's exactly what was happening.
Not a handful of moves had been performed and Andre was already sweating heavily.
Maeda charged, but Andre swatted him away.
This uncooperativeness continued. It looked like Maeda was trying to begin the match in earnest, but Andre backed away or stood motionless in the ring, teetering.
New Japan Pro Wrestling founder Antonio Inoki came down to ringside.
It appeared his highly anticipated match was being ruined by pride or intoxication or both. Inoki entered the ring and talked to both wrestlers, presumably to get them to get on the same page.
It didn't work.
The awkwardness continued; fans forced to watch two men stare each other down and do nothing about it.
Maeda's kicks began to get more forceful. This failing match was entering real-fight territory. The giant nearly fell off his feet from the impact. Maeda then took to whipping Andre down with single-leg takedowns.
Andre looked much like a turtle that has fallen on its back. He shrugged, he stared at Maeda and appeared to tell him to pin him.
The narrative that these men were supposed to tell the fans had long been abandoned.
A frustrated Inoki climbed into the ring and used the commotion of everyone milling about at ringside to distract from the no-finish.
The argument for Maeda being insulted and angered by Andre's drunkenness is a strong one.
Andre looked intoxicated. The way he moved about the ring, his lack of speed and his lack of balance all point in that direction.
There are rumors though that this odd situation was started by Inoki himself.
The story goes that he wanted to teach Maeda a lesson in humility. Maeda believed himself to be a top-level star and was frustrated by his position in the company.
Andre was more than big enough to manhandle Maeda in the name of bringing him down a peg. There are moments in the match where it looked like Andre was just trying to dominate his opponent and not in an entertaining way, either.
Either way, something went awry.
A well-told story in the ring makes reality and fantasy hard to tell apart. When things devolve into a shoot it looks much Andre vs. Maeda, a bumbling, clumsy mess.
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