On February 16 this year, Antonio Honda headlined Ryogoku Sumo Hall for the first time. He faced DJ Nilla in the hilarious but surprisingly emotional conclusion to Musclemania 2019, a sprawling four hour epic from the (in)famously unorthodox DDT’s most galaxy-brained offshoot of all. In a PowerPoint presentation before the action, Muscle mastermind and all-around visionary Muscle Sakai explained that he’d chosen Honda because he wanted a main event no other promotion could pull off.
After sorting Honda into the not famous/losers quadrant of a graph charting wrestlers’ popularity and in-ring success, Sakai declared that “Honda is full of talent but his charm is really hard to put in words. Therefore he will never main event a DDT Ryogoku show, but he is perfect for Muscle Ryogoku!”
In a philosophical aside, Sakai added “His life may or may not change after main eventing today, and it is entire up to us fans and the industry as a whole to make it happen.”
This was, in retrospect, a remarkably accurate and portentous kickoff to Antonio Honda’s year in earnest.
More 2019 in Wrestling:
- 2019 in Wrestling: New Japan’s MVP Tomohiro Ishii
- 2019 In Wrestling: Orange Cassidy is Wrestler of the Year
- 2019 in Wrestling: Blue Demon Jr. vs Dr. Wagner Jr. at Triplemania XXVII
Honda’s charm is hard to explain with mere words. Sure, you could describe the 41-year-old DDT and Gatoh Move stalwart as a Platonic ideal of an old school southern wrestler who happened to be transported between Seth Brundle’s telepods with the ghost of Buster Keaton. You could add that his current schtick involves him falling down in some slapstick manner, claiming that he’s suffered a career-ending injury, and asking for the opportunity to tell a fairytale about a fox named Gon before he gives up— and that these stories invariably end in dick jokes and nefarious but easily thwarted attacks. The discerning fan should be sold on this rough sketch alone. But it doesn’t begin to do justice to Honda’s unique presence, his amusing mannerisms and asides, his physical comedy prowess, or his overall genius. Especially not when half of the magic is seeing what circumstances Honda and Gon the Fox find themselves in, and anticipating how their routine will unfold within them.
Luckily 2019 gave a steadily growing audience boundless opportunities to experience this for ourselves.
Narrowing down a definitive list of Honda’s best matches from a uniformly bonkers and brilliant year is almost as challenging as elucidating his charm, but here are some of my highlights: He fought a magazine. In late March, he inexplicably removed his pants to challenge HARASHIMA for the DDT Extreme Division Championship. He charmed New York with two English Gon The Fox stories during WrestleMania weekend (Gon went to see the “Empire Big Dick” for DDT Is Coming To America, and accidentally saw Penises From Heaven instead of Pennies From Heaven at Joey Ryan’s Penis Party). Upon returning to Japan, he made good on his challenge against HARASHIMA in a Panty☆Hunt Tiger Rope Deathmatch. Sadly, he lost the Extreme belt in a harrowing YOGI YOGI Deathmatch the following month.
Undeterred by the loss or the inherent danger of the form, he went on to participate in a UFO Deathmatch against An Chamu for Gatoh Move. Then he managed to become both the best tag team partner and the finest foe to the promotion’s rising star Lulu Pencil. Over the course of DDT’s Beer Garden week, he experienced the true spectrum of the human experience, losing to his fellow comedy master Sakura Hirota and her twin toddlers on one night, and falling prey to the sexiness of his own erotic fiction on another. In the fall, he formed yet another Tag Team of the Year contender with Tokyo Joshi Pro’s ace, Miyu Yamashita. They got even better when Yamashita, who had been pre-warned by her teammate that he tends to fake injuries, stopped calling for an ambulance whenever he fell down.
And then, on November 3, Honda returned to the Sumo Hall spotlight to team with Yamashita against Rhio and Kenny Omega. The semi-final match of a DDT Ryogoku event. While the circumstances— and the content— of his second headlining match couldn’t have been more different, Honda shon every bit as much at DDT Ultimate Party as he had at Musclemania, showcasing both his criminally underrated strengths as a serious wrestler and his immense gifts as a comic performer.
This match brought him to a receptive new audience, but it’s unfair to call it a breakthrough. It was yet another showing from a smart, skilled, and incredibly open-minded talent who grounds himself in wrestling’s traditions while pushing the medium it to its limits.
It was, in fact, just as Muscle Sakai predicted. In 2019, Honda was Honda. it was the industry and the fans who grew to better recognize what he was already doing. And we’re all richer for it.
- DDT EXTREME Championship: Antonio Honda vs HARASHIMA, April 2019 (DDT, YouTube)
- UFO Deathmatch: Antonio Honda vs Anchamu, June 2019 (Gatoh Move, YouTube)
- Antonio Honda vs Morning No.16 Magazine, March 2019 (YouTube)
- Gon The Fox vs The Strongest Housewife on Earth, July 2019 (DDT, DDT Universe)
- Musclemania 2019, February 2019 (DDT Universe)