We’re doing something a little different on this week’s Random Reviews – and this is not going to be for the feint hearted. This week, we’re digging into my pile of DVDs, to review a show from 1995 that put Mick Foley on the map: it’s the IWA King of the Deathmatch tournament.
Held in Kawasaki Stadium in August 1995, this was a one-night tournament featuring some of the more violent and ludicrous match types to ever grace professional wrestling. Thankfully, there’s more standard wrestling too, but this a rare show that features former UFC champion Dan “The Beast” Severn on the same card as bombs, barbed wire and glass. Oh boy.
Before the show, we’re treated to news-style clips of fans queuing to get in – in Japanese – and there’s a worrying number of kids eagerly queuing to see all of this violence. We get a music video, set to generic rock music, of all of the competitors of the tournament making their entrances, including Cactus Jack and his barbed wire cross. Oh, we also get entrances of some of the guys not on the card, including Silver King and El Texano (the father of Lucha Underground and AAA’s El Texano Jr.)
Fun fact: Yoshihiro Tajiri was on the undercard for this show, but his tag team match, sadly, did not make the cut onto the DVD. Shame.
Tournament Quarter Final: Barbed Wire Board & Chain Match – Mr. Gannosuke vs. Tiger Jeet Singh
They shove down the referee to start, and Tiger attacks Gannosuke with his fencing sabre, before tossing him outside the ring into a barbed wire board, and then crossing over into the crowd… in the first match of the tournament!
Gannosuke takes several chairshots, and they wander deeper into the crowd, exposing how oversized Kawasaki stadium was for this show, and we just about make out Tiger waffling Gannosuke with chairs, before the favour is eventually returned, as the bloodied Gannosuke is led back to the ring. Back there, Gannosuke fires away with dropkicks and chops, but Tiger finally uses the chain to choke Gannosuke, but that somehow doesn’t kill him, and he finds enough to fire back with headbutts in the corner. Tiger gets a near fall with a Tongan Death Grip on Gannosuke off the ropes, before throwing the barbed wire board in, and sending Gannosuke into it with another Tongan Death Grip, and we have our first submission. To be fair, I’d probably tap out the second I came near barbed wire… **
Tiger Jeet Singh decks the referee after the bell and heads to the back, literally none the worse for wear after his first round match. If only Mr. Gannosuke could say the same! The cameras follow him backstage, and we’re treated to video of him throwing up in a sink… Lovely!
Tournament Quarter Final: Barbed Wire Board & Chain Match – Terry Funk vs. Leatherface
We stick with the boards and chain here, with the former Corporal Kirchner under the mask as Leatherface here, and for some reason, they’re in a second ring, closer to the fans. Like in the first match, they don’t get around to tying both men to the chain, as Leatherface jumps Funk before the bell, and lands a moonsault early on, before knocking Funk into the barbed wire board outside the ring. Leatherface fires up his chainsaw, and Funk actually gets his hands up to block it a couple of times, before the referee finally couples Leatherface to the chain.
Funk is already bloodied at this point, and Leatherface wrapping the chain around his neck and face isn’t going to help. Leatherface takes a bump into the boards next, before Funk uses the chain to whip him like it’s a belt. For some reason the two of them decide to climb a fence surrounding the fans, and my word, that fence does not look stable. Funk climbs over it and uses the chain to choke Leatherface like a noose, before dropping to the floor.
Leatherface puts the board into the ring and sets it up against the turnbuckles, and of course, Funk gets whipped into it, before Leatherface fails to put Funk through a table, and instead gets yanked off the top rope, where he lands on the indestructible Japanese table. After rolling back in, Funk hits Leatherface with a few punches, finishing with a chain-assisted left hand shot, and secures the pin. A bit anticlimactic, but thats what you get in these matches *¾
Tournament Quarter Final: Barbed Wire Baseball Bat & Thumbtack Match – Terry Gordy vs. Cactus Jack
We’ve got two future WWE Hall of Famers here folks! The thumbtacks are placed into sandboxes, and they’re back in the main ring, with the wrestlers being counted down before being allowed to run into the ring to grab the baseball bat.
Gordy grabs it first and whacks Cactus Jack on the back with it, sending him scurrying outside for cover. They tease a hiptoss into the thumbtacks, but Gordy sends Cactus just outside the box, and Cactus fires back with some forearms in the corner. Gordy clotheslines Cactus down, but is blocked from rubbing his face into the pins, and again when he tries to bulldog Cactus into the box.
Cactus returns the favour, but gets back suplexed into the corner, before he back body drops Gordy out of the ring, as the crowd “oohs” whenever they think someone’s going to try and dump their opponent in the thumbtacks.
After being whipped into the turnbuckles, Cactus slumps to the mat, landing in the box of thumbtacks – and ends up getting his head stamped into them. That seemed a little wasteful of a spot, given how they’d built it up earlier. With thumbtacks around his forehead, Cactus fires back with punches on Gordy, before going for the barbed wire-covered baseball bat, only for the two of them to take the action outside the ring, and back to the tables in the crowd.
Of course, they’re Japanese tables, so Cactus’ head bounces off it when he’s piledriven into a table by Gordy, and he’s immediately back on his feet, as they go back to the ring so Cactus can take a powerbomb into the thumbtacks. A second one follows – outside of the tacks – and they both looked horrible as Gordy almost dumped Cactus on his neck.
Cactus fires back by throwing a handful of thumbtacks into Gordy’s face, then hitting the double armed DDT into the box for the winning fall. That was something – I wasn’t a fan of the needless table spot, but what the hey… they cut away from the pair brawling to the back, and jump cut to a post-match promo from Cactus. **
Tournament Quarter Final: Barbed Wire Baseball Bat & Thumbtack Match – Hiroshi Ono vs. Shoji Nakamaki
More of the same here, and these are probably the two least-known guys in the entire tournament to Western eyes. They’re in the secondary ring, and Ono wins the race to get the barbed wire baseball bat, immediately waffling Nakamaki with it in the chest, before returning the favour. I’ve a feeling they’ve got some protection under those t-shirts…
A long collar-and-elbow tie-up follows, with Nakamaki eventually headbutting Ono out of the ring before heading for – yes – a table. They go for a walk, with Ono being tossed into the crowd, where he takes a couple of chair shots, before Ono retaliates by biting the head.
Ono goes into the primary ring, and hits the first wrestling move of the match, an STO with a bunny hop before it, for a near-fall, before getting another two-count after a shoulder block off the top. A hideously bad clothesline gets him another two-count, and it was so bad that Nakamaki showed him how to do that move properly, drilling him with a lariat of his own.
They go walkies again, returning to the secondary ring as they tease thumbtack spots, before Nakamaki goes for an STF, with a severely-bloodied Ono just about crawling to the ropes in time. Nakamaki follows up with a bulldog, stopping short of the thumbtacks, before going for the move again and seeing it reversed into a back suplex into the box. And again. Amazingly, those two back suplexes into thumbtacks gets Ono a near-fall, but an attempt at a third is reversed mid-move, with Ono falling into the tacks, before taking a powerbomb into the box for yet another two-count.
Stunned by Ono’s perseverance, Nakamaki – who has a big cluster of thumbtacks in his head – picks up Ono and drops in into the box for the final time, using the move that the Miz would later rechristen the Skull-Crushing Finale, to score the win. Well, this was the bloodiest, and most technical of the four quarter finals… ***¼
WWA World Light Heavyweight Championship: Flying Kid Ichihara (c) vs. Takashi Okano
A nice change of pace from the blood and guts here, and they’re back in the main ring, starting off with basic stuff like hiptosses and dropkicks. The match comes across as clipped on the DVD, to the point where any dead time seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. As does the audio from the crowd, as they barely react to anything.
Okano gets a near-fall with a bodyslam and a legdrop, before going for a single-leg crab, forcing Ichikara to the ropes. Ichikara responds with a headbutt and a moonsault press for a near-fall on the challenger, who goes outside the ring and is met with a tope as Ichikara just about cleared the ropes.
Back inside, Ichikara misses a big splash off the top rope, before Okano gets a near-fall after struggling for a Blue Thunder Bomb. Ichikara connects with an Asai moonsault to the outside, then brings Okano to the mat with a backbreaker, before connecting with a top rope splash for another two-count. A slow count allows Okano to kick out of a bridging German suplex, before he rolls out of the way of a top rope moonsault.
The finish came when Ichikara went for a hurricanrana off the ropes, but Okano rolled through into a sunset flip for the win – and to become champion also. The post-match graphics showed this as having gone 17 minutes – most of that match was edited out, so I’m not going to bother with a rating.
Kamikaze vs. Iceman
They actually advertise this on the back of the DVD as “Wow… A regular match”; sadly, the Iceman involved here is a masked man, looking like a cross between Max Moon and a Power Ranger, and not the former British hardcore wrestler. After they took their robes off, both guys look like they’d fit in CHIKARA if they ever started employing badly out of shape guys… and I have a good feeling this match is going to be edited.
Basic stuff here, as they start by blocking hiptosses until Iceman ends up on the apron, where he tries to come back in with a springboard armdrag, only to screw up the armdrag part. A luchador, he ain’t. Although saying that, he just about pulls off the “skin the cat into headscissors” move, sending Kamikaze to the floor.
Jump cut! They’re back in the ring and Kamikaze hit an awkward spinning heel kick that sends Iceman to the outside, before meeting him there with a dive. Jump cut (again)! Kamikaze goes up top after a bodyslam, but gets dropkicked to the top turnbuckle by Iceman, who brings him down with a superplex for a near-fall.
A top rope big splash gets Iceman a near-fall, before he misses a horrible looking attempt at another splash. Kamikaze drops Iceman with a powerbomb for a two-count, before we get another jump cut to a tornado DDT out of the corner for a near-fall. Kamikaze kicks out of a Tiger Bomb, then drops Iceman with a rolling German suplex and a roll-up, only for Iceman to reverse it and score the win.
If those were the highlights, I don’t want to see the rest of this match. It felt like we saw most of this match, so I’m going to give it ¾*
Tournament Semi Final: Barbed Wire Board & Glass Match – Terry Funk vs. Tiger Jeet Singh
Onto the death match semi-finals now, with the barbed wire boards returning alongside plates of glass. This can’t be safe, can it?
They’re back in the secondary ring as Tiger Jeet Singh uses his sabre to fight through the crowd, whilst the beloved Terry Funk just uses the aisle as normal. The editing monster returns as we go straight to a clip of Tiger attacking something with his sabre – at first I thought he was smashing the glass in order to use the fragments as weapons – but a cut reveals that he’s attacking a referee right next to the barbed wire board. Classy.
They start by fighting in the crowd, with Tiger using the handle of his sabre to attack Funk, as the pair wade through dozens of folded chairs, some of which became weapons for Tiger Jeet Singh, who breaks apart a folding stool and uses the metal frame to stab Funk, who falls into a plate of glass (which we hear, but don’t see).
The camera then opts to zoom onto the broken glass as Tiger stabs Funk with what used to be a frame of a folding stool, and they finally make it into the ring, where the stool frame comes into play once more, as this match started to become hard to watch. Funk grabbed the stool frame and threw the referee out of the ring so he could use it to get some retribution (not sure why, as this was a deathmatch, so no DQs!).
Tiger rakes the eyes to escape a spinning toe hold, before jabbing a spike into an increasingly-bloodied Funk. Out of nowhere, Cactus Jack appears, and tries a double-team with Tiger, only for Funk to miss as Tiger took the sabre-assisted clothesline, and with Cactus Jack just too late to make the save, Funk gets the win.
That was hard to watch, and I’m baffled at the camera work here – oh, and the run-in finish. I didn’t think Vince Russo’s booking career started in Japan… **½
Tournament Semi Final: Barbed Wire Board & Beds of Nails Match – Cactus Jack vs. Shoji Nakamaki
They’re staying in the secondary ring here, as Cactus picks up the bed of nails, and we get the jump cut during Nakamaki’s entrance. They start with a collar-and-elbow tie up, with Cactus going into the corner before ironically clapping Shoji.
Cactus cheapshots Nakamaki in the corner, then tries to shove him out of the ring onto the barbed wire board, before succeeding with a baseball slide dropkick. Nakamaki reverses an Irish whip and sends Cactus into the barbed wire that had been propped against the ring, but Cactus fires back with a clothesline before sliding the bed of nails into the ring. This can’t be good.
A suplex on the floor follows as Nakamaki goes all Junkyard Dog on Cactus with some headbutts, before Cactus grabs some barbed wire and rakes it across Nakamaki’s forehead. The wire was then “upgraded” to nails, before Cactus got shoved back-first into the bed, then arm first, and back first yet again.
Nakamaki slides the barbed wire into the ring, but gets cut off by Cactus, who busts out his Mankind squeals a few years before the time as he fish-hooks his opponent, then places the barbed wire board across the back and leaps onto it. That gets a slow two-count for Cactus, who continues the assault by tossing the board back onto Nakamaki as we cross the five minute mark. Only five minutes in, and Nakamaki’s bleeding heavily… even more so when Cactus shoves him out of the ring again, with Nakamaki’s left boot and elbow getting impaled on a second bed of nails.
Back outside, Cactus goes to bodyslam Nakamaki onto the nails, but changes his mind, instead opting to place the board on top of him, and follow-up with the Cactus Jack elbow off the apron. This is getting extremely brutal. Despite being impaled, Nakamaki kicks out at two from a very slow count, before trading headbutts with Cactus, who staggers back into another board of nails. Three times. Then falling onto the barbed wire.
Cactus rolls away as Nakamaki goes for a big splash on the board, before Cactus suplexes him back onto the barbed wire and hits another elbow drop for yet another slow near-fall. Another elbow drop follows, as does another sluggish two-count (I hate this referee’s counting), before Nakamaki resumes headbutts, then drops Cactus onto the barbed wire board for a two-count.
Cactus ups the ante with a double-arm DDT into the barbed wire board, and that’s all folks! Easily the most barbaric match from the tournament to date, and there was actually some psychology with the boards in the early going, but Cactus was largely only bleeding from his arms, while Nakamaki’s face was the proverbial crimson mask by the end of it. ***
IWA Tag Team Championship: Los Cowboys (El Texano & Silver King) (c) vs. The Head Hunters
Another clip-fest here, as the Headhunters (who I’m not even going to try and differentiate) take on the team of El Texano (the father of Lucha Underground & AAA’s Texano Jr) and Silver King (yes, that one who was in WCW).
Some double teaming to start off with, but Silver King knocks down a Headhunter with a dropkick, before he’s dropped with a double flapjack. A double team powerbomb follows, before el Texano comes in, and barely fazes a Headhunter with a clothesline. This is all one-way traffic, as Texano takes another flapjack, before being flattened by a big splash/legdrop combo, with Silver King breaking up the count.
Jump-cut as Texano’s back on his feet for a double team splash on a Headhunter, before Los Cowboys connect with separate dives to the outside… followed up by a plancha from a Headhunter. Another jump-cut and we’re back in the ring, with Texano locking an armbar on a Headhunter, before stupidly trying for a bodyslam. A Headhunter misses a sit-down splash and gets covered for a near-fall, before the Headhunter recovers and reverses a double suplex attempt. They hit dualling elbow-drops from the top rope, but the Headhunters’ size gets them back into it, but Silver King gets thrown into the crowd, leaving the Headhunters two-on-one with Texano, who got suplexed into a super powerbomb, with Silver King coming back just too late as the Headhunters claimed the tag team titles. This was clipped beyond all recognition, but what they left in wasn’t too bad **½
NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Tarzan Goto vs. Dan Severn (c)
More clipping here as we get to the semi-final between Tarzan Goto and NWA champion Dan Severn. Severn, of course, would go on to have a small run in WWE, and looked to be one half of a total styles clash against a deathmatch specialist here in Goto.
Goto slaps Severn to begin with, as the champion trips over the referee in an effort to retaliate… and of course, Goto’s gone for a chair. The referee then admonishes Severn for holding the ropes open for Goto, which leads to a distraction for Goto to lock on a rear naked choke on the apron – I think this guy went on to become a referee for Bellator…
Severn threw Goto over his shoulder to free himself, and of course, that means more chairs from the challenger, but “The Beast” isn’t taking any of this. Back in the ring he works over a leglock, but Goto kicks himself free into a single-leg crab, which is broken via the ropes. Goto keeps on top of Severn with headbutts, and actually lands a wrestling move, with a jumping armbreaker into an armbar.
Severn frees himself and retaliates with knees to the head before mounting Goto in a rear naked choke, as we’re treated to scenes of a shocked/bored crowd, before returning to Goto rolling free of the hold. I sense a massive jump cut as he’s now suddenly bleeding from the forehead, as he goes under the ring to grab a beer bottle. That gets smashed against the ring, but thankfully Severn fends it off with a steel chair as Goto straight up went to win a match via attempted murder.
They spill into the crowd, brawling in amongst the fans, before Goto legitimately breaks a seat against Severn. The ECW pile-o-chairs spot follows on the floor, and Severn wakes up and hurls a few chairs into the ring, except the ropes intervene on a few occasions. Severn catches Goto in the back of a leg with a chair, before they resume duelling, as Severn has enough and schools Goto with a belly-to-belly suplex.
The very liberal referee lets Goto continue to waffle Severn with chair shots, including a shot that Severn just about blocked to the head. Two Gotch-style-cradle-less piledrivers follow, before Severn whips Goto into the ropes for a back body drop turned into an Emerald Fusion. Another missed Goto clothesline leads to a German suplex, before he locks in a rear naked choke that forces the referee stoppage. Well, Severn lets go of the hold after the arm drops three times, then the referee waves it off. Decent enough match, but that clash of styles did not look pretty **
Tournament Final: No Rope, Explosive Barbed Wire, Fire Board, Time Bomb Deathmatch – Terry Funk vs. Cactus Jack
This is “the match”, I guess, and we start by surveying the scene in the middle of Kawasaki Stadium, with all of the carnage-inducing accessories strewn across the ring.
Funk is in his bloodstained shirt from earlier, whilst Jack’s left arm is all taped up… and they start by boxing?! Funk peppers Jack with a couple of jabs, before Cactus tries to send Funk into the barbed wire via a collar-and-elbow tie-up.
Funk puts the brakes on when Cactus whips him into the barbed wire ropes, before Cactus baseball slides out of the ring when the favour is returned. They tease going into the ropes, but a camera close up shows Cactus actually impales his arm as he tried to rake Funk’s eyes, but Cactus is the first one who bumps into the barbed wire ropes, as Funk shoves him into the strands.
Funk then takes a bump into an explosive barbed wire board after staggering backwards from some punches from Cactus, to the horrified shrieks of the women in the crowd, but Funk kicks out at two. Cactus gets whipped into the barbed wire ropes again, as his shirt gets shredded to pieces, before Funk gives him a really low hiptoss into the other exploding board, to much less of a reaction.
Cactus is dropped like a sack of potatoes with a piledriver by Funk, before taking a second one into a barbed wire board that smashed on impact. Funk keeps up the pressure by punching Cactus into the barbed wire ropes, which is followed up by being hurled into a barbed wire board that’d been propped into the corner. That only gets Funk a two-count, as Cactus escapes the ring and is met by a flying barbed wire board. At this, I think attempted murder may be the only way to win this, especially as Cactus tosses a brick at Funk on the outside.
The crowd gets an up-close view of things when Funk reverses an Irish whip, sending Cactus into the front row, before they return to the ring as the announcer screams “less than two minutes”. So Funk takes that as a signal to put in the spinning toe hold, as Tiger Jeet Singh runs in level Funk with his fencing sabre. Mr Ring Announcer screams “less than one minute” as Cactus and Tiger whip Funk into an exploding barbed wire board that’d been propped in the corner, and Cactus gets a near-fall from a neckbreaker.
Cactus drops Funk with a double-arm DDT in the middle of the ring, but that gets him a two-count as the ring announcer counts down… but to what? Cactus escapes the ring as Funk staggers up, then slumps down, as the countdown was for… an exploding fart. The crowd loudly boos the “time bomb” that just went off, as Funk gets to his knees and motions “what the hell?” to the crowd.
We get another explosion as Funk delivers a back suplex to Cactus on a barbed wire board in the corner – and that explosion was louder than the time bomb. A bloodied Cactus rolls outside as the referee checks Funk’s vision, and we get a ladder thrown into the ring. Funk takes the ladder to the head, before Cactus suplexes the ladder onto him, getting a near-fall in the process.
Cactus climbs up the ladder, then nails the elbow drop from the top, but Funk gets his shoulder up at the last minute. Cactus went up again, but Funk knocked him flying into the barbed wire ropes, but somehow that led to Funk collapsing on the mat, as Cactus got up first and scored the win. A very, very anticlimactic end to a match that would go down in folklore…no wonder Funk and Foley hated this. The selling point of the match was the timebomb, and when your big selling point leads to boos, you know it’s gone badly wrong **
Post-match, we get a promo from Cactus Jack, and footage of Terry Funk leaving the stadium as he was carted off to hospital, as the closing credits rolled. What the hell?
All in, this show does not hold up some twenty-plus years later. The early rounds of the weapons matches were pretty much throwaway, and it had to be left to Messrs Funk and Cactus to add anything resembling psychology to the deadly spots. Away from the tournament, a lot of the matches were too edited to mean anything (and in the case of Iceman vs. Kamikaze, the editing couldn’t even save them!)
You can probably find the main event around online, but I wouldn’t recommend hunting down this DVD for anything other than completionists, or people who want to own a copy of history and leave it on their shelves.
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