One of the best days of the wrestling calendar, at least for me, is in January when the annual Wrestling Observer awards issue makes its way to my house. Unfortunately it also occasionally becomes the worst day when I invariably read that some Japanese match won "Match of the Year" and makes me want to strangle someone. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Japanese wrestling is great. I know that. Everyone tells me the same thing. But I've tried watching it over and over and just can't get into it, primarily because of one reason, the announcing. Seriously. I know some people don't care about the guys calling matches, but to me it is a major barrier. I consider a good match to be equal parts in-ring action, production values (doesn't have be WWE pyro, but the camera work can't be audition tapes for the next Blair Witch Project, good storytelling, and announcing.
I've done this rant a thousand times before, so there is no point into going everything again, but that language barrier has prevented me from watching a ton of great matches. I just can't take it, I tried five minutes of the NOAH Departure DVD, with the much lauded Kobashi vs. Akiyama match – which won that year's Observer Match of the Year - and had to turn it off. I just couldn't take it anymore. Hey, I don't read German books, I don't watch Spanish television, and don't watch African movies either. I think that is why I enjoyed the Best of Japan 2005 DVD so much, because it had those kick ass Japanese matches I keep hearing about, but also had English commentary.
Now then, like most, I had a great time reading Mick Foley's first book Have a Nice Day and found the parts about his trips to Japan to be highly entertaining. Foley talked fondly of his matches there and I even got to see a glimpse of them in the documentary Beyond the Mat. Those were some matches I definitely wanted to see, but knowing they would have Japanese commentary always kept me away from them. This was a historical piece of wrestling history, the first King of the Death Match, held on August 20th, 1995 at the Kawasaki baseball stadium and my xenophobia was keeping me from enjoying it!
Along came Big Vision Entertainment to save the day! Big Vision, the same company who brought to the table the best-in-the-industry shoot DVD series Ultimate Insiders and this year's Wrestle Society X, has released the very Death Match tournament that Mick Foley wrote about, and have added English commentary. To quote the Iron Sheik, "Thank you Lord, thank you Jesus, thank you Vince McMahon." This tournament features Mick Foley, Terry Funk, LEATHERFACE~!, Tiger Jeet Singh, Terry Gordy, Hiroshi Ono, Shoji Nakamaki, and Gannosuke in one crazy match after another to crown the IWA-Japan 1995 King of the Death Matches. The matches are complete, uncut, and have commentary by ROH's Dave Prazak and Some Other Guy.
Right away you are going to love this DVD as everyone involved in the show came to the ring in some sort of wacky entrance. Not just the guys in the Death Match Tourney, every guy on the card. Terry Funk came to the ring on a white horse, Mick Foley walked to the ring with a barbed wire cross, El Texano and Silver King drove to the ring in style in a white car while Terry Gordy and several other wrestlers drove to the ring in some sort of army jeep with a huge ass machine gun. Just insane stuff. My favorite was Leatherface, who came through the crowd waving his chainsaw and having everyone scatter in front of him. For those that don't know, Leatherface is a great example of how the rest of the world doesn't give a shit about American copyrights. He is a guy (formerly known as Cpl. Kirshner in the WWF, and contrary to what WWE.com says, is still alive) who dresses up like Leatherface of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, complete with mask made of "human flesh." This is also the greatest gimmick in the history of wrestling. Leatherface also wields a chainsaw and goes in and out of the crowds, scaring everyone to death. MMA fighter Dan Severn came out last, as at the time he was NWA champion, and was driven to the ring in a black town car.
Each of the tournament matches had a bizarre stip, for the first round the brackets looked like this: Barbwire Board and Chain Match - Gannosuke vs Tiger Jeet Singh, Barbwire Board and Chain Match (Singh looks old here and believe it or not he is still wrestling in Japan in Hustle) - Terry Funk vs Leatherface, Barbwire Baseball Bat and Thumbtack Match - Terry Gordy vs Cactus Jack, and Barbwire Board and Thumbtack Match - Hiroshi Ono vs Shoji Nakamaki. I was surprised to see one of the referees being none other than Gypsy Joe, a guy I last saw taking a baseball bat to the head courtesy of New Jack. Ol' Gypsy Joe even had a special ceremony dedicated to him later in the day, which is also included on the DVD. The matches themselves were the very definition of hardcore and watching Terry Gordy curbstomp Mick Foley's head on a tray of thumbtacks is brutal to watch.
Round two included a couple of Barbwire Board and Bed of Nails matches, featuring Terry Funk vs. Tiger Jeet Singh and Cactus Jack vs. Shoji Nakamaki. To say these were insane would be an understatement. Finally, the night was capped off with the main event of Cactus Jack vs Terry Funk in a No Rope Explosive Barbwire Fire Board Time Bomb Death Match. Unbelievable. In a way this show carried a WrestleMania III feel for me because of how the outdoor stadium itself became part of the visual show. As you can see from the screencaps, the event started off during the day, but by the time the main event started it was night time, which was actually helped the match in a purely visceral way. It was like mixing a horror movie with ECW.
The ropes were replaced with barbed wire and there were bombs strategically placed around the ring. The bombs were these exploding boards that the guys would occasionally get tossed onto. There was also a Time Bomb that the crowd kind of shit on after it exploded. I guess it is just like what WSX found out, some people loved the goofy explosions, but many more hated them. WSX added to their stuff in post production while the Death Match tournament had everything done on the spot. Foley brought a ladder into the mix and by the end he was soaked in a crimson mask. I think if this match had taken place in ECW Arena it would be talked about to this day as the Greatest Match of All Time, at least in terms of spectacle.
There were also several non-Tourney matches included on the DVD including: a comedy match with Kamakaze vs. Iceman, a cruiserweight battle between Takashi Okano vs. Flying Kid Ichihara, The Headhunters (think twin Abdullah the Butchers, but can actually work to some degree) vs. Silver King & El Texano, and Dan Severn vs FMW legend Tarzan Goto in a match for the NWA title. I remember when the Headhunters had their 15 minutes of fame on the American scene and they had a wild match. The Severn match just might be his best worked match in my opinion as I always found him to be on of the most uncharismatic and boring guys in wrestling. This particular Severn match contained a lot of brawling with the two guys going nuts with throwing chairs as well. It's a Severn match for people that hate Severn is probably the best way to describe it.
So, that's just the first disc of this two disc DVD set. It was fantastic to be able to finally see such a noteworthy wrestling show and I think I need to go back and read Foley's accounts of it in his book as I remember him talking about his legendary match against Funk and in particular, the "big" explosion. In fact, I'm pretty sure Funk wrote about the match is his book as well, so that's two books I'm going to have to go back and re-read.
Bonus Features: This second disc of this set includes the following matches "inspired" by the IWA tournament. First up is XPW: best of the Death Matches - Five crazy matches from Rob Black's XPW promotion that last for just about an hour. Also available to watch are a series of random matches including: Dynamite D vs New Jack, Kronus vs Homeless Jimmy, Kaos vs Johnny Webb, Supreme vs Alterboy Luke, and Nosawa vs White Trash Johnny Webb. I didn't mind these at all as I like watching New Jack, Homeless Jimmy, Supreme and Alterboy Luke. The matchest are all psychotic and use the usual array of light tubes, chairs, ladders, tacks, and every other hardcore weapon you can think of. The match with Webb vs Nosawa is also shown on XPW best of the Death Matches section. Weird.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: Another Big Vision triumph as they bring to DVD one of wrestling's most talked about shows and have added English commentary. Anyone who has watched Ring of Honor lately knows that Dave Prazak has developed into a damn fine announcer and he continued his good work here. Complete and uncut, this is one show worth going out of your way to see, especially if you are a fan of Mick Foley or Terry Funk like I am. Keep in mind that this DVD is not for the weak of heart, and even though hardcore wrestling has gotten more brutal over the years, some of these matches will still make some wrestling fans sick. To get your copy of The Best of Death Match Wrestling Volume 3: The Legendary Japanese Tournament Click HERE and get it delivered to your door, and for 10% off to boot. Or head on over to your favorite wrestling store, such as RFVideo.com or Highspots and get your copy ASAP.
Special Thanks to the Dr. Keith Show's own Keith Lipinski for his help with this review. On this week's Dr. Keith show will be Adam Pearce and a surprise guest from the old ECW.
Derek Burgan has been writing for the Wrestling Observer/Figure 4 Weekly~! family since October, 2005. He is anxiously awaiting for the start of the NFL season and for his San Diego Chargers to dominate the league once again. If you have any questions, corrections, feedback, comments and ideas, he can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).