Sunday, June 9, 2019

PEACE FOREVER: Sensei Willie Williams has died at the age of 67

It was from Twitter user Shigeo (@sg_oxxt) ("🇯🇵 /Former stage actor / Used to practice BJJ, Judo & Karate / Jazz dance(7 years) / Not good at English / Puroresu & MMA fan") that many of us learned earlier today of the passing of Willie Williams, a low-key legend of 極真 Kyokushin karate to those of us who enjoy a certain sort of Japanese professional wrestling wherein, although it is fake, it seems less fake (we have spoken of this). I have nothing to say, really, other than to wish peace upon Mr. Williams and to note that he seemed lovely in a very particular way. R.I.P. to a true martial artist, a man who truly believed in karate.

Here are some of the times we spoke of him, should you wish to revisit them:












RINGS BLOG SUPPLEMENTAL: 1980年2月27日 蔵前国技館 格闘技世界ヘビー級選手権試合 アントニオ猪木 vs ウィリー・ウイリアムス AND 1997年1月4日 東京ドーム 第8試合 INOKI FINAL COUNT DOWN 6th アントニオ猪木 vs ウィリー・ウィリアムス


In that last one we said:

"Volk Han vs. Willie Williams is no less a tournament bout of this tournament than the tournament bouts now behind us and it, unlike them, is now before us. The outcome of this encounter is already known to me (I think) to the extent that, if I am not mistaken yet again, I think this is the final match of Willie Williams' august mixed fight career (not the end of his way of karate for of course there is no end to his way of that). What more can we say of this man -- and the purity of his love for the karate whose name he utters with such tender solemnity -- that we have not said before? His art has been a treasure to us; let us treasure the gift of it once more.

In keeping with all that he holds dear in his way, Williams opens with a barrage of kicks and knees and straight punches to the chest that knock Han to the mat within the opening minute yes. I am very worried about the gyaku-ude-garami/reverse-arm-entanglement/double-wrist-lock/Kimura that Han secures first standing but then, after no small measure of whipping all over, the ground, but Williams finds the ropes. OH NO IT IS THE KATA-ASHI-HISHIGI OF THE SINGLE-LEG BOSTON CRAB and that is it for Willie Williams at 3:14 and what can we do now but be thankful for the blessing he has been to us and possibly also commend him to Christ depending on our disposition(s) towards Him."


Let us turn to the commemoration of Willie Williams' life (or an aspect of it) published in the June 24, 2019 Wrestling Observer Newsletter as we behold What Dave Meltzer Had to Say:

"Willie Williams, a Kyokushin karate fighter who was involved in one of the biggest and memorable pro wrestling matches of its time, passed away on 6/8. He was 68.

Williams fought Antonio Inoki on February 27, 1980, at a sold out Tokyo Sumo Hall with 11,000 fans, in a match for Inoki’s WWF World Martial Arts championship. The match went to a double count out, ending in the fourth round.

The match became legendary in Japan, and was actually huge in the Japanese comic book world before it ever happened. A rematch 17 years later was a key match in a sold out Tokyo Dome and highly rated television show. The match itself was not a real fight, but was in fact, voted the greatest fight in Japan of the 20th century. And the story behind the match was even more interesting than the match itself.

This was during the period that Inoki was able to turn himself into a national sports hero with mostly worked matches that were billed as martial arts bouts, and in Japan, to this day they are considered the earliest MMA fights even though only three of them were real, two in India (one of which wasn’t really a shoot but a work that turned into a failed double-cross and not all that different from Inoki vs. Great Antonio) and the 1976 match with Muhammad Ali. The latter was supposed to be a work but it fell apart and they had a legitimate fight with a rule set that greatly favored Ali and ended as a 15 round draw.

The match itself has one of the most interesting back stories on record.

Williams became famous in Japan as the top foreigner of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Kaikan School of Karate. There was a very popular comic book in Japan based on Mas Oyama’s karate in the 70s called “Karate Baka Ichidai,” written by Ikki Kajiwara, a name famous to wrestling fans because he also created the pro wrestling Tiger Mask character in comic books, that led to a television series, which eventually led to Satoru Sayama popularizing that role as a pro wrestler to giant mainstream success.

While the idea of “Karate Baka Ichidai” was that the stories were real, it was more fantasy and great exaggerations. However the comic books were so popular they led to three movies. Williams appeared in one of the movies as himself, the deadly American karate star in a scene where he beat up a bear in a jungle and in Japan had the nickname “The Bear Killer.”

You have to remember that prior to 1993, when UFC and Pancrase began, both Americans and Japanese had no clue about real fighting. The mentality of a real fight consisted of people who thought boxing was a real fight, or people who thought Bruce Lee and martial arts movies or David Carradine and “Kung Fu” were real fights. People were taught from childhood with karate studios all over the country that the karate masters were the true real fighters. Usually the only people who thought different were those who actually studied fighting, which were rare, the wrestling community and the boxing community.

It was that mindset that led to the marketing of Inoki. In the 70s, Inoki and Giant Baba were fighting over dominance in a very popular and lucrative pro wrestling market. Baba provided an Americanized version of pro wrestling, with access to the biggest names in the U.S. Inoki had to create his own stars, whether they would be by bringing back older legends like Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz, or debuting independent wildmen like Tiger Jeet Singh.

The rivalry created unique booking, because wins and losses mattered and even if people didn’t think it was all real, Baba and Inoki were fighting over who was the national wrestling hero, and really, aside from the star of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team like Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh, really for the top spot as sports stars in the country in that era.

Baba could beat world champions like Jack Brisco and every top American, which Inoki couldn’t do. Inoki could beat Shozo Kobayashi, the top star from the rival IWE in the big dream match of the era. But then, after Inoki and Billy Robinson (who, from his time in the late 60s on television was considered the best “real” foreign wrestler at the time still in his prime) had their legendary 60:00 draw, Baba signed Robinson, offered him the biggest foreign contract to date, and then pinned Robinson in their first meeting.

Inoki and booker/manager Hisashi Shinma took a new approach, with the idea of promoting Inoki as not just a pro wrestling star, but the world’s greatest fighter. The key to the idea was to pay Muhammad Ali, the most famous boxer of that time, and probably of all-time, to lose to Inoki. Of course that fell through in the end, but conceptually, this led to the most memorable period of Inoki’s career. It started with his February 6, 1976, match at Budokan Hall where he beat Willem Ruska, an Olympic gold medalist in judo in 1972 and a guy who went to Brazil and cleaned up the toughest Vale Tudo guys, and perhaps was the toughest real fighter in the world at the time.

Inoki’s win over Ruska turned Inoki into Japan’s fighting hero. While the Ali fight was a dud, now remembered as legendary, the birth of major MMA and the biggest match in history in Japan because of the names involved, it was actually a terrible match for its time.

They continued to book Inoki in so-called martial arts bouts, with the idea without actually saying so, that these matches were shoots as opposed to the more questioned pro wrestling matches, under free fighting rules rather than pro wrestling. The idea in Japan is that when Inoki defended his NWF world title (the predecessor to today’s IWGP title), it was a big pro wrestling match. But when he defended the WWF World Martial Arts championship (which was created with the win over Ruska and retained in the Ali match), it was viewed as more real and drew a larger television audience because of the interest in mainstream fans.

Inoki had wins over Andre the Giant in 1976, Ruska in a rematch in 1976, Akram Pahalwan of India (a unique story of itself), karate champion Monster Man Eddie Everett, boxer Chuck Wepner (who once fought Ali for the heavyweight championship and was the person who the original movie “Rocky” in 1976 was based on), retired German boxer Karl Mildenberger (who once fought Ali for the championship in the 60s), bodybuilder/strongman personality Mike Dayton, and several others.

The Pahalwan match on December 12, 1976, was held at the outdoor Karachi National Stadium in Pakistan. Pahalwan was a pro wrestling legend in India and Pakistan, but by this point was older and in his 40s. He was a shooter in his youth, but Inoki, 13 years younger and still in his prime, was also trained in submissions and was a far more versatile fighter and better athlete. This was, like the others, supposed to be a pro wrestling match, but Pahalwan attempted a double-cross in the match, and it backfired, as Inoki, realizing the situation, got Pahalwan in an armbar and actually broke his arm.

This led to a match on June 16, 1979, in Lahaul, Pakistan, at Qadaffi Stadium, where Inoki faced Jhara Pahalwan (Zubiar Aslam), the 19-year-old Indian wrestling prodigy and nephew of Akram, who had been groomed for three years to gain revenge for the family against Inoki. What it was supposed to be going in is anyone’s guess since it would make no more sense in 1979 for Inoki to do a high profile shoot as it would be in 1986 for Hulk Hogan to do one. But it very clearly ended up as a real fight. There were no punches to the face, but there were body blows, head-butts and mostly wrestling. Pahalwan was clearly stronger and wearing Inoki out, who couldn’t get much offense, was mostly on his back, and never threatened with a submission. But Pahalwan had wrestling skill but no finishing skill. They went five five minute rounds before time expired.

In Japan it was reported as a draw, notable because in theory that would lead to a rematch that never happened. In actuality, Pahalwan was ruled the winner via decision and in Japan, it was like Backlund vs. Inoki was in the U.S., a match pretty much hidden from history.

Inoki continued his big martial arts matches with wins over Ruska in South Korea and Kim Klokeid in Japan.

At the same time, in the late 70s, a new comic book series came out in Japan called “Shikakui Jungle” (Squared Jungle). The comic book series was built to where it would end up with the real fight of the century between Inoki and Willie Williams. The comic book became so popular that there was a demand for this fight in real life.

“The match had to take place,” noted Japanese pro wrestling historian Fumi Saito. “It was not necessarily Inoki calling the shot.”

In 1979, there was a 160 man tournament with no weight classes in Japan under karate rules to find out who was the best karate fighter. Williams made it to the final four, losing in the semifinals.

But even though he didn’t win, Williams was still billed as the karate world champion.

Essentially, there were far too many people involved in putting this match together, as you had the karate side and the pro wrestling side, and the match was felt to be so big when it comes to interest, that both sides felt they had to go through with it. But neither side would agree to lose.

There was hope to go to a secret location and work out a match, like Inoki had done with the non-pro wrestlers he had worked with. But fear of double-cross of injury led to that not happening. If anything, it was the karate people who wanted to “prove” a karate guy could beat up Inoki, who was by far the more famous of the two, than the other way around. However, TV Asahi was the key money people, and Inoki was their guy, so he was not going to be put in a position to be shot on or lose. Kajiwara and his people, Inoki, Shinma, movie people and karate people were involved in a number of secret meetings trying to work out how to work out compromises and do the match.

Even so, on the night of the bout, Williams had a large group of badass Kyokushin karate guys as his bodyguards, and they were not involved in the negotiations, and they were very aggressive, believed to be looking for a fight. Inoki brought Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu and Haruka Eigen, three of the toughest guys from his stable, to be in his corner. His two believed to be New Japan’s toughest guys, retired trainer and legendary shooter Karl Gotch and Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Gotch’s top student and the New Japan policeman at the time, were not available.

The match was not a shoot, but it was as tense as any non-shoot would be. Both were on their guard. Williams, who was 6-foot-6 ½ and 230 pounds, had a big reach edge and was also quicker. Not much happened but Williams was able to land punches. He hit jabs with enough force to look real but not in an attempt to knock Inoki out. Inoki got a few takedowns but Williams would always make the ropes quickly. They fell out of the ring a few times where the karate guys and the New Japan guys would rush over.

Both sides agreed to a double count out finish at 1:24 of the fourth round. Inoki at least got his takedowns and Williams had to scramble to the ropes, so it didn’t look so one-sided and Inoki saved face. But Williams didn’t lose and looked better against Inoki than anyone.

In the 80s in particular, the match was legendary, replayed all the time. I can’t remember how many different times on sports shows that I saw that double count out finish when there would be stories on Inoki. Its reputation grew and because of the interest and how much it felt like a real fight, and because Inoki was involved, in 2003 it was named the greatest fight of the 20th century in Japan.

He returned to Japan in 1984 for another World Karate Open, and won some fights, but didn’t fare we well. He retired from competition and taught Kyokushin Karate, as well as some kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu and Aikido in North Carolina.

He was brought in on June 4, 1991, when the karate organizations in Japan were trying to create a new heavyweight superstar in Masaaki Satake, who would later do pro wrestling with RINGS but became very well-known in the heyday of K-1 a few years later. With Williams being such a well-known cultural name, the expectation that the younger Satake would beat him, which he did via decision, helped build Satake’s reputation.

Akira Maeda was a big fan of the “Karate Baka Ichidai” and “Shikakui Jungle” comic books growing up, and he was 20 years old when the Inoki vs. Williams match took place. Of all Inoki’s martial arts and pro wrestling matches of his heyday, of course, the Ali match was the biggest, and the first Ruska match would be second and Williams would be third. But since the Williams match was considered easily the best of the three, it was considered as the peak of the genre.

In 1992, Maeda brought in a 40-year-old Williams for his RINGS promotion and signed him to a three-year-contract, with the idea of using him as a name to draw, having the credibility of being real from the Inoki match and the movie and comic books. The idea is he’d be mostly given wins, but in big matches would be there to put over the top stars.

RINGS was a largely worked pro wrestling promotion that purported to be a shoot, and many believed it. Years later, RINGS became a complete shoot, and fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Randy Couture, Renzo Gracie, Dan Henderson, Matt Hughes, Pat Miletich, Frank Shamrock and others fought there. Really, Emelianenko and Nogueira were first discovered and started in RINGS before they became bigger stars with Pride.

Because of that, Williams is listed as having a 9-4 MMA record, because for whatever reason, Sherdog and Wikipedia still to this day list many pro wrestling matches as real fights from the RINGS era.

Williams’ biggest matches in RINGS were his high profile losses to the top stars. Really, he was old, and his body was broken down from all the years of karate. The only thing really remembered about Williams from this period is he was tall and had the famous name from the past.

After scoring three fast knockout wins, they built up Maeda vs. Williams for July 16, 1992 at the Osaka Furitsu Gym (Edion Arena today).

Maeda vowed to retire if he lost. They drew a sellout crowd, with Maeda winning by submission at 2:03 of the third round.

His next big match was with Volk Han, Maeda’s foreign top star. This wasn’t planned. They had booked a big show for May 29, 1993 at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, a 12,000-seat arena. But Maeda, the top draw, was injured. Maeda was completely carrying the promotion from a box office perspective at the time, and the only idea they could come up with was Williams vs. Han. Han was the company’s second biggest star. It was enough to draw 8,700 fans, considered a huge success for a show without Maeda.

With his contract running out at the end of 1994, Maeda booked him to loss to himself one last time on May 17, 1994, in Sendai, where they drew a sellout of 4,856 fans. Maeda beat him in 2:38 since he was on his way out.

He was entered in the 1994 Battle Dimension tournament, and lasted until the third round where he was submitted again by Han on November 19, 1994 at the Ariake Coliseum as the No. 2 bout behind Maeda’s beating Tony Halme (a boxer who worked as Ludvig Borga in WWE and was also years earlier a top foreign star with New Japan, and later lost to Randy Couture in UFC).

He had three more RINGS matches, one in 1995, beating former Olympic wrestler Grom Zaza, and had two losses in 1996. His second, to Nikolai Zouev, a Russian freestyle and sambo champion was the main event on a Jekaterinburg, Russian show before 6,580 fans. There is a chance that match was legitimate, since the RINGS shows outside Japan were shoot shows. Williams fought one known legitimate MMA fight on September 14, 1996, in Mobile, AL, at 45 years old, losing to Ray Brooks. Given how badly his body was beaten up by that time, the idea of him doing shoots was not a good thing.

Inoki did finally get his win back. When Inoki announced his retirement tour, one of the themes was callback to his legendary matches from the past.

On January 4, 1997, Inoki vs. Williams was booked for the Tokyo Dome in New Japan’s biggest event of the year. It was fourth from the top on a show headlined by Shinya Hashimoto vs. Riki Choshu for the IWGP heavyweight title, which sold out with 52,500 fans. This was the description of the match in the Observer:

8. Antonio Inoki beat Willie Williams in 4:23. Satoru Sayama was in Inoki's corner for the match. Inoki used the octopus, then dropped to the mat with Williams, who tapped out. Awful. -* This was a rematch of their famous inconclusive mixed martial arts match in 1980, Antonio Inoki (who turns 54 in a few weeks) and Williams is 48.

Still, the show, which aired on a next day replay on a Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., did an 11.3 rating and 12 million viewers. While it was Choshu vs. Hashimoto that drew the peak of nearly 18 million viewers, Inoki vs. Williams was the second highest rated match, which shows just how much people remembered the match from 17 years earlier.

Williams ended his pro wrestling career, working in 1998 and 1999 for FMW."

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