Welcome to Let’s Pretend It’s Any Year Other Than 2020, where the Fanfyte crew talks about wrestling from May in other, better years.
There’s been a lot of Atsushi Onita coverage on Fanfyte lately. I wrote about his exploding ring death match against Terry Funk as an example of the tenderness I’d like to see in professional wrestling’s future. Editor Hunktears and I discussed an exploding pool death match on the second episode of Fanfyte VCR. And now, given the chance to talk about any wrestling show I want, I’m going to write about his (second of many) retirement(s), which happened on May 5, 1995, in front of over 50,000 fans in Kawasaki Stadium.
There is a whole show attached to Onita’s retirement match, a no ropes exploding barbed wire cage time bomb death match against Hayabusa, his heir apparent as the ace of FMW, and while some of it is good, most of it is a way of marking time. The FMW commercial tape I watched of this event is framed as such, showing an empty stadium and ring construction at 9:00am and checking backstage every so often up until 7:15pm, when Onita and Hayabusa are making their final preparations while the cage goes up around the ring. Other things happen on this show, but it is entirely about the Onita/Hayabusa conflict. The whole day revolves around it.
No matter who wins in the main event, Atsushi Onita is going away. That’s the draw here. It’s a going away party for a charismatic force of nature, a wrestler so beloved that the bare-bones, fly-by-night promotion he built around himself was capable of drawing tens of thousands of fans to Kawasaki Stadium every year. Wrestling is a spectacle, yes, but there are some wrestlers who are a spectacle unto themselves. Atsushi Onita is one of those. This is his retirement match, but it’s the culmination of a retirement tour kicked off a year beforehand when he lost to Genichiro Tenryu. The WARHW WARHW WARHW nightmare siren had been (metaphorically) sounding over every Onita match since, and now we’re here.
The tape begins with footage from a press conference that took place a week prior, the context for which was provided by Bahu, whose fmwwrestling.us is a comprehensive look at the promotion and its important stars. The political details of Hayabusa’s insertion into the match are fascinating, but we’re concerned with narrative here. Onita’s scheduled to fight Takashi Ishikawa on May 5, but Hayabusa interrupts before the contract is signed and asks for the honor instead. Onita rejects his student, even after Hayabusa says he would die for FMW, so it’s Ishikawa who gives Hayabusa his spot. It’s the originator of FMW against the new FMW. Based on how one gets to the stadium in a taxi and the other gets to the ring in a chauffeured Cadillac, you get the sense, right away, as to what’s on the line for both of these men. But first, there’s five hours of other wrestling.
More Pro Wrestling:
- The Head is Where the Brain Lives, and Other Lessons from WCW Slamboree 2000
- Fanfyte VCR 3: Step 1 Look At Vader Step 2 Feel Good
- The Supernatural Powers of Keiji Mutoh
[Ed. Note: Fanfyte decided to forgo the usual summary + grade structure for the first seven matches, since they weren’t really long enough to merit grading.]
Rikio Ito def. Gosaku Goshogawara
Thankfully, through the magic of video editing, that five hour wrestling show is shorter than an episode of Monday Night Raw, which is a real blessing because some of the matches on it are not good. Like, the point of clipping a match is to show the highlights. In this match that means a whack Ito powerslam and a powerbomb where he barely manages to get Goshogawara up. Just rough.
Katsuji Udea def. Tetsuhiro Kuroda
This is a “different style” match, featuring a wrestler and a kickboxer. They don’t do a great job of showing when rounds elapse, so that means watching Kuroda get DECKED a bunch. The fact that he keeps getting to his feet and squaring up is sick as hell, but the fourth time he does so Udea just walks over and blasts him on the side of his face. Given that he won in three rounds, my guess is that this looks way more cool and brutal when it’s just a young guy getting rocked by a kickboxer with a Mario mustache.
Amigo Ultra & Ultra Taro def. Battle Ranger Z & Mach Hayato
This match is clipped to give you the basics: Here’s a bunch of gentlemen wearing masks that vaguely infringe on several copyrights, and here’s a bunch of flips. Not having to watch the stuff that connects the dives means that you just get to freak out over shit like the spinning musclebuster Amigo Ultra unloads on Mach Hayato. It’s pretty wild seeing a cartoon commit murder in the mid-afternoon.
Street Fight: Shark Tsuchiya, Crusher Maedomari, and Kaori Nakayama def. Combat Toyoda, Miwa Sato, and Yuki Ishikura
This is a street fight, so everybody worth their salt is wearing t-shirts and jeans—bunkhouse attire, if you will. 90s joshi was a constellation of ridiculously cool-looking people, and Shark Tsuchiya and Combat Toyoda were among the coolest. Look at Combat’s eyeliner. You could impale someone on her wing. Along with the ruleless nature of the street fight, this is also a Texas Death Match, so you’ve got to keep your opponent down for 10 seconds to get the win. Shark Tsuchiya is too good for that and keeps getting up at two. She eventually gets the win when Yuki Ishikura can’t make it all the way back up to her feet after a powerbomb. This was a 16 minute match, but by its conclusion I am merely 16 minutes into this tape, which has featured a press conference, a music video, and four matches. This is the first match on the card that I want to see the entirety of.
Judge Dread and Koji Nakagawa def. Ryo Miyake and Douktare
Judge Dread is just a white guy in a full-body singlet and a t-shirt, so less “I am the law!” and more “I am upset that I can’t get a tattoo during a pandemic, and I also own several guns.” If I’m being disrespectful to this titan of the 1996 ECW undercard, I apologize. He’s not very good, but he is fun to watch in a way. Like, when he does a bearhug, he bearhugs Miyake’s ass. He does a fat man tope suicida. He does a top rope Vader Bomb! He never appears in FMW again, but he does leave with the win.
The Sheik def. Damian
The Sheik rules because he shoots fireballs at people and is as old as Moses. Damian rules because his facepaint is scary, he’s a good wrestler, and when he’s not being asked to lose to a 120 year old man in a minute and a half, he can do impressions of other wrestlers. Sheik works the spike a little, works a choke a little, then pins Damian by sticking the butt-end of the torch into his throat. The crowd isn’t happy with this, probably because it sucked and nobody got set on fire. I’m with the crowd.
Takashi Ishikawa, Apollo Sagawa, and Kishin Kawabata def. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, Hido, and Hideki Hosaka
Ishikawa’s reward for giving Hayabusa his match is a six-man duel with some fellas from W*ING, or at least FMW’s version of W*ING, a rival deathmatch promotion that ended in 1994. Despite W*ING being a bunch of scumbags who hate Onita, the crowd seems with them, particularly Matsunaga, who kicks people really hard. The W*ING team eventually leave Hideki Hosaka alone, where Ishikawa taps him to the Power Lock. It’s fine, just a match.
FWM Independent and WWA Women’s Championship Match: Megumi Kudo def. Bad Nurse Nakamura (c)
Megumi Kudo is out first, wearing a ton of pockets and camo, her face obscured by a flag advertising Haynes underwear. Bad Nurse Nakamura is out second, and she looks sick as hell. The woman with a Haynes flag on her head is not Megumi Kudo but is a decoy, as Kudo sneak attacks her to start the match. I love a clever ruse, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, as any early advantage she has is erased by clipping. Nakamura’s not a great wrestler, but she has presence and does my favorite goddamn thing in the world, which is putting someone in a sleeper hold from an elevated place and letting them hang. Eventually Kudo gets tired of Nakamura’s cheating and gets her in a spinning sleeper, which is also my favorite goddamn thing in the world. RESPECT THE SLEEP HOLD.
This match is pretty wild because it’s a really good wrestler and a wrestler who is, charitibly, not very good, and they eventually start throwing bombs that one of them has no business throwing. Among those bombs are Bad Nurse Nakamura’s flying knees to the back of Kudo’s head, some of which connect more solidly than others. Kudo kicks out of one of those knees where Nakamura is using a chair for extra impact. Like, you can read violence into this match, but none of it is more brutal than the utterly terrifying tombstone piledriver Nakamura breaks out as a make-good on an utterly soft tombstone piledriver just before. Like, Nakamura just doesn’t have the endurance for a match this long, and her double underhook powerbomb is also kind of a mess.
Thankfully, Kudo decides that it’s time for POUCH VIOLENCE, throwing a good handful of pocket sand at Nakamura before pulling out a chain from another pouch and hitting a backfist with it wrapped around her hand. Kudo goes for the 100th powerbomb of the show, nails it, and gets the win, narrowly escaping with her neck unbroken.
Grade: I will not lie—for as disjointed and frightening as this match often was, I loved it. I love Megumi Kudo and she’s good enough to make something compelling out of rough circumstances. This is no shade on Bad Nurse Nakamura—she’s just not a championship caliber wrestler, and it really showed here.
Katsutoshi Niiyama & Masato Tanaka def. the Gladiator & Horace Boulder
If you’re unaware, Horace Boulder is Hulk Hogan’s nephew. If you want an idea of how truly mediocre Horace Boulder is, consider this: He was Hulk Hogan’s nephew, blood kin to the biggest name in the history of professional wrestling, and while they were in the same promotion he didn’t even rate a WCW Hardcore Championship reign. I am talking about Horace so much because his mediocrity really shines through in this match, where he’s all about screaming OH SHIT as he fails to catch people on dives and FUCK NO whenever something bad happens. He fucking SUCKS, and you have to get around that suckiness to get to the sweet, sweet core of this match, which is the confrontation between Masato Tanaka and his biggest rival, The Gladiator Mike Awesome.
For no reason at all, the two brawl up into a scaffold for photographers. They don’t do anything up there, but it predates Triple H and Undertaker going up some scaffolding for a bad chokeslam, so don’t let The Game tell you there’s nothing good about death match promotions. This has a lot of things in it that you’d expect from Tanaka, like chair lightsabers and surviving horrifying bullshit. It also has all of the deliciousness you expect from Mike Awesome, like top rope chairshots and dishing out horrifying bullshit. The *most* horrifying bullshit is Horace Boulder’s fault, as he tries to “help” Awesome with a top rope powerbomb, but Awesome yelling “MOVE” doesn’t work super well, so Awesome hits the top turnbuckle with his ass and Tanaka lands on his head. Then they do it again, because wrestlers are insane. Boulder screams OH SHIT as he gets German suplexed by Niiyama, then does a lot of FUCK NOs on his way out, while his cousin Mike Awesome tries to calm them down.
Grade: There are moments in this match where you get to see everything you want to see out of Awesome and Tanaka. There are moments in this match where Horace Boulder looks like he’s going to kill someone in a way that’s less fun than how wrestlers usually kill each other. You take the good, you take the bad.
FMW Brass Knuckles Tag Team Championship: Hisakatsu Oya & Ricky Fuji def. Mr. Pogo & Yukihiro Kanemura (c)
Semi-main event time and it is finally dark outside. Hisakatsu Oya and Ricky Fuji are known as the Love Guns, which makes sense because both of them are obviously sex gods. Almost as soon as Pogo comes in, he brings out his barbwire bat, which doesn’t get enough credit as a terrifying wrestling weapon. Like, Cactus Jack had either a bat or a 2×4 wrapped loosely with barbwire. Pogo’s bat is wrapped tight, since he’s more about slicing a guy up than pinpricking him. Pogo goes nuts with this bat, and people in the crowd start screaming for teen heartthrob Ricky Fuji. Wrestling is the best thing because a ton of dudes who are not hot are promoted like they are and everybody goes along with it because it’s fun and people who aren’t classically hot are often good at fucking anyhow.
Oh yeah, Pogo has his sickle, and Hisakatsu Oya does the all-time dumb babyface move of trying to break up Pogo’s carving up Fuji, so we get a good, long look at Pogo’s incredible magic trick of using a sickle and not maiming someone, and some cool stuff where Kanemura puts claw holds on the wound to make it bleed more. Fuji takes a truly insane amount of punishment, including a piledriver on Pogo’s barbwire bat. His hope spot, a sudden second rope moonsault, is great, but he pulls the all-time dumb babyface in peril move of going for a second top rope thing instead of tagging out and he gets suplexed off. The hot tag rules though, as Oya gets in, lays waste to everybody, gets Pogo out of the ring and drills Kanemura with a lariat for the win. Everybody is THRILLED with this except for Pogo, who decides to set Kanemura on fire and leave the W*ING group, taking The Gladiator and Horace with him.
Grade: This match rules. I don’t know if “ambitious” is the right word, but I think there’s something to combining the elements of southern tag team wrestling and homicide that remains sadly unexplored.
Promo: Throughout this tape they keep showing Hayabusa and Onita psyching themselves out. They do this again, but now Onita is washing his face in the sink like he’s Leonardo DiCaprio remembering one of his many cinematic dead wives. Meanwhile, they’re building the cage. There’s a lot of spooky smoke, so it looks like a warzone and nobody is out there. It’s 7:15, so it’s time for Onita to put a second coat on over the coat he’s been wearing all night. He writes something on a chalkboard. I have no idea what’s happening outside of the match set-up, but it’s so goddamn cool I could care less. It’s time, y’all.
No Ropes Barbed Wire Exploding Cage Time Bomb Death Match for the FMW Brass Knuckles Heavyweight Championship: Atsushi Onita (c) def. Hayabusa
While the two were making their way to the ring, I found myself wondering if this was the best retirement match of all time. For all of the last matches in wrestling history, very few of them are actually billed as retirement matches, or are matches where careers on the line. Even fewer of those are actually final matches, but it’s wrestling, so who cares. You have things like Cactus Jack vs. Triple H, Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels, Tenryu vs. Kazuchika Okada, but wrestling is a very uncertain industry where any match can be a wrestler’s last (Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata, for example), and few happen under circumstances like this one, where one wrestler is arguably at the peak of his popularity and another is primed to take over. It feels like and is an absolutely massive match in the history of wrestling. If all you ever see of the match is its entrances, that’s enough to see what I’m talking about.
The match itself is fantastic. The cage and the threat of it exploding take away a lot of Hayabusa’s high flying offense, but he’s not here to impress Onita with his aerial maneuvers, he’s here to fight to the death for the FMW that will live on in Onita’s absence. As such, there is a ton of drama early on in this match as both of them try and fail to shove the other into the cage. Onita’s strikes are mean and not at all like the headbutts and punches he usually goes with. He’s chopping and kicking Hayabusa hard, taking his student to school one last time. Hayabusa maintains control of a headlock so long that when Onita finally shoots him off, both of them end up hitting the cage. There’s 9:45 left on the 15:00 timer at this point, and while it’s all headlocks and strikes, it’s breathless.
Onita got the better of the bomb, as he’s in control when the two get up. Onita at one point hits one of his signature DDTs but doesn’t even bother with a pin, picking Hayabusa up and hurling him into the cage, which blows up. Onita takes Hayabusa to school after that, hooking in Sharpshooters and half-crabs until Hayabusa powers out. Onita tries to take over with a headlock, but Hayabusa manages to shoot Onita into the cage. That bomb heralds the coming of the big one—three minutes left and the WARHW, WARHW, WHARW stuff begins. Hayabusa gets a figure four on in the center of the ring, but Onita starts slapping him. They exchange slaps. Onita gets out and hits a powerbomb, but only gets a two count as the sirens continue. Onita tries super hard to put Hayabusa away, but dude really meant it when he said he’d fight to the death for FMW and will not stay down. Hayabusa tries to strike Onita, misses, and flies into the one side of the cage that hasn’t blown up at the same time as the bombs go off.
This is what I love the most about these matches, the post-bomb ring that’s covered in ash and soot and the battered bodies of professional wrestlers. A lot of wrestling matches have been described as “wars,” but few of them truly look like one. Obviously the timebomb is harmless, but as a metaphor for what two men are willing to go through to prove supremacy? Unparalleled. You’d think Onita would win this swiftly, but Hayabusa kicks out of an Onita powerbomb and the crowd flip out for Hayabusa, which accomplishes the task this match set out for itself. Hayabusa reverses another powerbomb with a hurricanrana, hits Onita with a powerbomb of his own, and scales the cage, where he goes for a moonsault that Onita avoids. It’s one of the great mini-rallies in wrestling, this 90-second sequence where it looks like Hayabusa might pull it out, capped off by him kicking out of another powerbomb. It takes two more, but Onita walks out of his final (for the moment) match victorious.
Grade: It’s incredible. It’s impossible to articulate how difficult it is to walk the line this match walks, something trying at once to send off the biggest star in a company while crowning its successor, especially with the condition that the man leaving the company needs to win. In that respect, it’s a perfect match. Divorced from its business context, that’s still the story, and that story is told so well. It’s a match that’s trying to make you cry without being corny. It succeeds.
After the match comes the Onita stuff, where he checks in on his fallen opponent and tries to help him out of the ring, both very tender and very stern. He and Hayabusa even hold hands at one point. This is Onita’s goodbye, and he really soaks it in while, in the back, Hayabusa is on a stretcher crying in frustration. Onita makes it to the back eventually and he yells at Hayabusa, who yells back before being loaded into an ambulance in the great FMW tradition. During the press conference that follows, Onita cries a single tear for his retirement, a real One Perfect Shot situation if ever there was one. The Onita drama throughout the tape makes the whole thing worth a watch, but if you start at Kudo/Nakamura and work your way forward from there, you get a pretty good taste of the best and worst that FMW has to offer.