Pros: The definitive DVD of the now infamous 1995 DeathMatch Tournament
Cons: Maybe too intense for mainstream wrestling fans
Having been introduced to the world of so-called extreme wrestling circa 1994 by watching Extreme Championship Wrestling on Sports Channel Philadelphia, I would like to say that I am more or less a connoisseur of the more violent style of pro wrestling exemplified by organizations such as ECW, Xtreme Pro Wrestling, Combat Zone Wrestling, among others. This style of wrestling combines traditional grappling with the use of weapons and stipulations that major wrestling federations would probably be wise to stay away from. With these additions, extreme wrestling frequently borders on the truly insane, featuring blood, brutal wrestling action, and the occasional nasty looking bump.
My view of extreme wrestling changed forever when I first witnessed action from Japan. Having been brought up the more traditionally founded domestic wrestling, the levels of brutality in Japan just seemed to consistently shoot off the charts. While I had seen some crazy stuff in ECW, including use of barbed wire and thumbtacks as well as frequent blood, Japanese wrestling threw all kinds of crazy stipulations into the mix, allowing the wrestling to reach previously unheard of levels of carnage. The 1995 IWA Japan King of the Deathmatch Tournament, featured as the main program on Big Vision Entertainment's Best of Deathmatch Wrestling Volume 3 compilation, effectively ushered in a new era in the sport of pro wrestling, setting the stage for ECW to really take off in the United States, and ultimately leading to mainstream acceptance of extreme wrestling in the U.S.
The 1995 tournament, filmed in early August in Kawasaki Stadium, features an 8-man elimination style tournament to determine the first ever "King of the deathmatches." As the event progresses, the stipulations involved in the matches get more and more serious, culminating in the legendary finals match that features boards covered in barbed wire that have been rigged with C-4 explosives. As one could imagine, landing in C-4 is pretty nasty, and for the most part, this DVD has a limited audience. Those who can't stomach the violence and blood loss that goes along with extreme wrestling should probably steer well clear of this DVD. While it is (amazingly) not the most gory wrestling DVD I've ever seen, the levels of violence reached here set new standards and a pretty graphic at times.
Along with the main tournament, this DVD also features several other matches from the card that night. While most of these are pretty forgettable undercard matches included primarily to give the competitors in the tournament a little break, they do serve to break up the action on the DVD nicely. Two and a half hours of solid hardcore wrestling would probably grow tiresome even for a seasoned viewer, but mixed in with some traditional wrestling, the overall program here is more audience friendly and watchable.
Here's the card for the event:
1. Tournament Match One - Round One
Tiger Jeet Singh vs. Mr Gannosuke - Dog Collar, Barbed Wire Match
Pioneer of the extreme wrestling style Jeet Singh takes on Japanese wrestler Gannosuke in this wild round one match. Jeet Singh doesn't allow the ref to even hook up the dog collar that would have connected the two combatants, but instead goes right to work on Gannosuke, using the barbed wire, a sword, and literally anything else he can get his hands on. It amazes, or maybe more accurately amuses, me that Jeet Singh can perform in these kinds of matches without taking nary a single bump. By examining the structure of his matches, you can see that this guy was more that willing to dish out some punishment, but overall, very hesitant to take a beating himself. Regardless, this opening contest sets the stage nicely for the matches to come with its fast pacing, but overall is not especially memorable. Two and a half stars out of five.
2. Tournament Match Two - Round One
Terry Funk vs. Leather Face - Dog Collar, Barbed Wire Match
A slight improvement over the opening contest, this match features the perennial horror movie character wrestler (a popular gimmick in Japan) against wrestling legend Funk. Funk was a recognizable star in the wrestling world having won the NWA heavyweight title in the late 1970s, so having him appear in this tournament would really give the event some prominence. This match features the same stipulation as the previous bout, with both competitors attached to each other with a chain. One exciting moment has Funk and Leather Face climbing a fence ringside, with one or the other dangling off it precariously at times. Like the first contest, this match is not especially noteworthy; I'd give it three stars.
3. Tournament Match Three - Round One
Cactus Jack vs. Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy - Barbed Wire Bat, Thumbtacks Match
Here's where the program starts to get interesting: two stars from the U.S. battling it out with all sorts of crazy weapons. The barbed wire bat sets up some cool spots, but the real deal comes when Gordy stomps Jack's face directly into a wooden box filled with thumbtacks. With tacks embedded directly into his scalp, Jack continues the contest, all the while continuing to take some nasty-looking bumps into the tacks. Gordy, like Jeet Singh, seems somewhat reluctant to really get hardcore, so the match is mostly Jack getting abused, but still this match is more solid and brutal than the previous two matches. Three and a half stars.
4. Tournament Match Four - Round One
Hiroshi Ono vs. Shoji Nakamaki - Barbed Wire Bat, Thumbtacks Match
Finally, two guys who don't seem to have any problem getting extreme. This match features some really nasty bumps into the tacks; by the end of the match Ono has been turned into a human pincushion with tacks all over his head, arms and back. A very brutal contest. Four stars.
5. WWA Lightweight Title Match - Flying Kid Ichihara vs. Takashi Okano
A non-tournament title match, this is a fast-paced technical contest that features terrific back and forth wrestling. While only shown in highlights on the DVD, this seems to be a well-developed match, with the upstart Okano taking on the more recognized Ichihara. Known for his aerial moves, Ichihara pulls off some impressive splashes from the top rope, but Okano holds his own nicely. I'd give this contest three and a half stars.
6. The Iceman vs. Kamikaze
Another "filler" match, this one features two basically unknown wrestlers, and as such is pretty forgettable. The action is about what one would expect; both competitors deliver some top-notch moves, and the momentum in the match seesaws back and forth. Overall, this match does its job of buying the tournament contenders some time between their bouts, but really is unmemorable in the bigger picture. Two and a half stars.
7. Tournament Match Five - Round Two
Tiger Jeet Singh vs. Terry Funk - Panes of Glass, Barbed Wire Match
Jeet Singh comes out of the dressing room on fire, punishing the more beaten Funk right out of the gate. At one point in an excessively violent display, Jeet Singh uses the mangled metal frame of a chair to stab Funk repeatedly in the arm. Funk by this point is bleeding like crazy, and continues to take some heavy abuse. The panes of glass come into play, with Funk again being tossed through the glass suffering more injuries, but being the veteran (and fan favorite) that he is, he continues to battle through it to inflict (light) damage on Jeet Singh. Cactus Jack appears at the end to aid Jeet Singh, so the match builds to an exciting climax. I'd give it three and a half stars.
8. Tournament Match Six - Round Two
Shoji Nakamaki vs. Cactus Jack - Beds of Nails and Barbed Wire Match
A ridiculously brutal contest, with both competitors taking some crazy bumps into the barbed wire. At one point, a bloody Jack is slammed into the barbed wire which becomes stuck in his arm. In order to free himself, Jack literally has to rip the barbed wire out of his bicep; pretty nasty. Nakamaki similarly takes some nasty bumps into the nails and barbed wire; by the end of this match, both competitors have been reduced to a bloody mess. Four stars.
9. IWA Tag Team Title Match - The Headhunters vs. El Texano and Silver King
Following a ceremony honoring the contributions of Gypsy Joe, another premiere figure in the evolution of extreme wrestling, we have a tag team match for the IWA tag titles. The gigantic Headhunter twins from Puerto Rico take on the more technically based champions in this match that is basically size against technical ability. Overall, this is a solid contest, with all the players demonstrating some excellent wrestling ability. For their size, the Headhunters (who each must weigh over 400 pounds) pull off some terrific moves, and the team of Texano and Silver King really have to make extra effort to deliver moves that will even effect their much larger opponents. I'd give this satisfying filler match four stars.
10. NWA World Title Match - Dan "The Beast" Severn vs. Tarzan Goto
This wild NWA title match features frequent Mixed Martial Arts competitor and NWA world champ Severn against the larger and more violent Goto. This match features Severn using all sorts of technical moves, including some nice submission maneuvers against Goto, who pulls out every trick in the book, frequently fighting dirty and using foreign objects in his quest to win the belt. This turns out to be one of the more entertaining championship bouts I've seen in a while; an interesting matchup of two varying fighting styles. I'd give it four stars.
11. Tournament Match Seven - Finals
Terry Funk vs. Cactus Jack - No-rope, Barbed Wire Explosion Match
An absolutely insane final match of the tournament. As I mentioned, the stipulation here is that the barbed wire-covered boards in the ring have been wired with C-4. When one of the wrestlers goes onto the board, it explodes. As if that isn't wild enough, the ring ropes have all been replaced with barbed wire. Jack takes some nasty bumps into the barbed wire, but it is Funk who is absolutely destroyed by falling repeatedly into the C-4 which causes his arms to be burned quite badly. Jack by the end of the match has his faced completely drenched in blood, while Funk just looks to be attempting basic survival by the conclusion. This match pretty much established Jack's career, as well as made Funk the "Living Legend" of Hardcore wrestling. Truly, a match that one must see to believe. I'll give it the full five stars for the insanity and spectacle of it all.
As with any video copy of this event, the picture quality is somewhat weak on this DVD release. I believe this was originally shot on video, so the images are somewhat blurry and the color definition is low. That said, this release is about the best I've ever seen this event, and certainly is an improvement over the many bootleg VHS copies that have circulated in the wrestling fanbase for some time. The announcing on this DVD is in English and provided by Jerry David and Dave Krazak, who do a decent job of calling the action.
As with the other volumes in the Best of Deathmatch Wrestling series, volume three here contains a number of bonus matches. First, the DVD includes the entire XPW release Best of the Deathmatches, which I reviewed here. While somewhat weak overall as a DVD release by itself, I believe it should provide extra bang for your buck when included in the Best of Deathmatch Wrestling compilation.
Along with that XPW program, the disc also includes four additional XPW contests:
1. A bloody match between Dynamite D and New Jack that features all kinds of weaponry and brutality
2. Homeless Jimmy vs. Kronus in a Lightbulbs and Glass match that is pretty decent
3. Kaos vs. Johnny Webb in a Barbed Wire and Light Tube Match
4. Supreme vs. Altar Boy Luke for the XPW King of the Deathmatch Title; a pretty exciting match with a crazy finish
All in all, some nice extras on the disc, even if most of them have been previously released.
Overall, Volume Three of the Best of Deathmatch Wrestling series is about a must see for anyone really interested in the extreme style of wrestling. Aside from featuring the event that would exemplify the hardcore wrestling style, the disc features a number of bonus matches that should be right up the alley of anyone interested in seeing this disc in the first place. For your money here, you get a lot of action, and I would have to give this disc my highest recommendation.