Mike Reviews IWA Japan 2nd Year Final Battle

Hello You!

I was originally going to have a bash at reviewing the 1995 King of the Deathmatch this week, but I’ve seen that one quite a few times whilst I’ve never seen this show, so I decided to go with something new. If you fancy watching along, you can do so by clicking HERE.

For those not au fait, IWA Japan was a Japanese Deathmatch promotion that was founded by Víctor Quiñones and ran by Tatsukuni Asano. Essentially it was created to replace the recently defunct W*ING promotion. They spent the 90’s being one of the main rivals to FMW, the premier Japanese Deathmatch company of the time, and brought in the likes of Terry Funk, Cactus Jack, Tarzan Goto and Tiger Jeet Singh to juice up the roster.

The “Kawasaki Dream” show from the summer of 1995 featured an 8 man Deathmatch Tournament, eventually won by Cactus Jack, and had given the company some considerable attention both at home and internationally, with this tape being the follow up.

The tape features a selection matches from two shows that were held at the end of 1995 , one in October and the other in December. The December show is based around crowing new NWA Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, with Terry Funk taking part as well as Cactus, Terry Gordy and The Headhunters.

It’s not like I’m a gigantic fan of Japanese Deathmatch Wrestling, but it’s nice to have a change of pace now and then from the usual brand of Puroresu, and I’m a big Mick Foley fan so it’s always interesting to go back and watch stuff from the mid-90’s where he was still working the indies and pretty much destroying himself almost purely for the love of the sport.

So without further ado, let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!

We start off with event one, which was held on the 5th of October 1995 in Tokyo

Opening Match
Tudor The Turtle and Yoshihiro Tajiri Vs SHINOBI and Bob Baragail

Tudor was a comedy masked guy who I can’t find out much about. Tajiri will likely be a recognisable name to most reading this, as he’d eventually end up as a regular member of the WWF roster in 2001. I’m not sure who SHINOBI is, but I’m guessing it isn’t Al Snow as he was in Smokey Mountain during this time wasn’t he? Baragail often worked a lot under a mask as horror movie villains in Deathmatch’s.

This is clipped, with everyone doing high spots. Baragail does some nice flips and dives. Tajiri is young here, but has some decent poise all considered. Tajiri kicks out of some top rope moves from SHINOBI and gets a near fall of his own with a German Suplex before getting pinned by a SHINOBI Northern Lights Suplex.

WINNERS: SHINOBI & BARAGAIL
RATING: N/A

What was shown looked fun

Interestingly there’s no commentary here and they’re relatively light on promos and shenanigans.

Match Two
CMLL Tag Team Titles
Champs: The Headhunters Vs Terry Gordy and Keisuka Yamada

The Headhunters are two large lads from Puerto Rico who were decent brawlers that could occasionally deliver sloppy moonsaults when required. Gordy had been a big name in All Japan, but sadly had suffered a stroke and was never the same, leading to him having to slum it in IWA instead. Yamada was a young up and comer at the time who ended up moving on to Osaka Pro in 1999 where he took on the character of Black Buffalo.

This one is clipped also, with Gordy taking it to the Champs early on. Yamada doesn’t fare as well though and ends up getting moonsaulted by one of the Champs for the three count.

WINNERS AND STILL CHAMPIONS: THE HEADHUNTERS
RATING: N/A

What was shown looked fine and the crowd seemed invested in it

We get a montage of barbed wire being set up for the next match.

Match Three
No Rope, Barbed Wire, Barbed Wire Boards and Thumbtacks
Kenji Takano Vs Shoji Nakamaki

Takano had jumped from All Japan to SWS in the 90’s and had been working as a freelancer since the company folded. Nakamaki was a fixture of the Deathmatch scene in the 90’s, kind of filling the role of a less talented Japanese version of Mick Foley, whereby he would take ridiculous punishment in an effort to get himself over. He didn’t have Foley’s mind for the business nor his working ability, but he certainly did have an endearing quality to him, and the world loves a trier at the end of the day.

The tacks are in little trays inside the ring. Takano jumpstarts the bout by attacking Nakamaki during his entrance and the fight is on, with both men brawling in the entrance way, with Nakamaki already bleeding. Nakamaki’s main offensive move is a pretty nice looking head butt, which he used to stem the tide a bit before getting beaten up some more. This match actually has some great heat from the crowd, as Nakamaki certainly had his fans.

Sadly though Nakamaki doesn’t really get a chance to do much, with Takano pretty much taking all of the match and looking like he doesn’t have any interest in taking any bumps himself.  Nakamaki is of course the first one to go into the tacks, landing in them following a lariat and then taking a fall face first into them when he misses a splash.

I’m sorry, but Takano is coming across as a bit of pussy for making Nakamaki take all the punishment here. I totally understand why someone wouldn’t want to take those sorts of bumps, but if you’re not prepared to do what’s needed to have a good match then don’t take the match to begin with. Taking the match and then making the other guy do all the dangerous stuff because you’re too much of a wimp is just snide behaviour. Takano slams Nakamaki into the tacks and then drops a knee from atop a table for the three count.

WINNER: KENJI TAKANO
RATING: *1/2

There are people with ten times the talent of Nakamaki who barely put one tenth of the effort in as he did in this match. It’s a shame that Takano wasn’t willing to play ball, as this could have been a better match if he’d been arsed

Takano cuts a promo backstage following that, whilst Nakamaki flings himself through the wire following the match to show how crazy he is.

Match Four
IWA Japan Title
Champ: Tarzan Goto Vs Cactus Jack

This one heads outside right away, with Cactus taking some unprotected chair shots to the head. Cactus tries a Fujiwara arm bar of all things back inside, but Goto makes the ropes to break, after which it’s back to brawling. Both men actually fight in the bleachers, with fans scattering for their lives. Cactus takes a terrifying bump off the apron onto the railings, which he thankfully gets up from, but that looked nasty.

Cactus tries a sleeper back inside, with my thought being that he’s trying to use the same tactics Dan Severn used in his successful NWA Title defence against Goto at the Kawasaki Dream show. Goto survives that, but Cactus follows up with an elbow drop off the second rope onto the floor, before putting him back inside for a rear naked choke. I’m loving Mick Foley Submission Specialist! None of the holds bare any fruit for the challenger, but it’s still cool to see it.

Goto decides to reply by going all route one and carving Cactus open with a bottle, actually drawing heel heat from the crowd in the process. A screwdriver gets used next, and shockingly Cactus is now bleeding as a result, although he is able to kick out of a lariat at two. Goto resorts to just flinging chairs at Cactus before throwing him off the second rope down to the floor. Goodness me, the fact Mick Foley survived long enough to fall off that Cell in 1998 is kind of amazing based off what he used to do before making it in the bigtime.

Cactus keeps kicking out back inside, with the crowd loving his fighting spirit and booing Goto’s constant weapon shots. Eventually Cactus is able to catch the Champ with a Double Arm DDT onto a chair, but he can’t pin him right away and that allows Goto to kick out at two. The near falls here have been great and executed very well. Eventually Goto is able to wear Cactus down though and gets a fall forward piledriver onto a chair to pick up the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: TARZAN GOTO
RATING: ***1/2

Cactus cuts a promo backstage, promising payback. This was your typical manic Cactus promo and it was great.

We now move on to the show from Toda on the 9th of December 1995

Match Five
NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament – Preliminary Round
Keisuke Yamada and Terry Funk Vs Freddy Krueger and Boogieman

I’m not sure who Krueger and Boogieman are, but I’m guessing one of them will be Baragail. This one looks like it’s clipped, with Funk quickly submitting Krueger with the Spinning Toe Hold.

WINNERS: FUNK & YAMADA
RATING: N/A

I’m sure the full match would have been a thrilling and dramatic contest that would have truly changed the life of all who had viewed it.

Match Six
NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament – Preliminary Round
Shoji Nakamaki and Leatherface Vs Terry Gordy and Keizo Matsuda

Leatherface was a masked brawler from Canada who dressed up like the villain from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Matsuda was only a few months into his career here and would end up wrestling as Fake Hard Gay in HUSTLE. This is clipped, with the bits we see of Gordy actually looking good, which is night and day from how bad he was in the WWF just a year later. He eventually picks up the win by pinning Leatherface.

WINNERS: GORDY & MATSUDA
RATING: N/A

Not bothering to show us full matches sure makes this tournament seem prestigious!

Match Seven
NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament – Preliminary Round
The Headhunters Vs Flying Kid Ichihara and Miguel Perez

Ichihara had worked in Mexico before coming back with the Flying Kid gimmick. Perez was a wrestler from Puerto Rico who will probably be best known as the member of Los Boricuas with a hairy back from his days in the WWF. Both teams have matching gear here, which is a step up on some of the other makeshift units. This one is again clipped, with the flippy lads looking pretty decent but Kid eventually gets squished by a Headhunter elbow for three.

WINNERS: THE HEADHUNTERS
RATING: N/A

I get that the tape is only 90 minutes long, but maybe it would have been smarter to just dedicate the entirety of the tape to the tournament?

Match Eight
NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament – Semi-Final
Cactus Jack and Tiger Jeet Singh Vs Keisuke Yamada and Terry Funk

Singh was a big star in Japan owing to a feud he had with Antonio Inoki in the 70’s where he famously attacked and bloodied Inoki whilst Inoki was out shopping with his girlfriend. As a result he was able to coast on that feud for years, even though he was a pretty lousy worker and also supposedly had a rotten attitude. His son Tiger Ali Singh was supposedly a much nicer guy, but ended up having to leave the WWF in 2001 due to injuries and even tried suing them over it.

Tiger charges at the fans with his sabre before the match even starts, which leads to a brawl going on out there, where poor Yamada gets assaulted until Funk comes over for the rescue. Cactus and Funk quickly pick up where they left off at Kawasaki Dream by brawling and whacking one another with plunder whilst Yamada sells and bleeds due to the two on one ambush from the heels. Tiger seems to have a blonde Japanese guy helping him put the boots to Yamada, but I’m not sure who it is. He’s quite big whoever he is and looks like if Mr Gannosuke and Heichachi Mishima had their genes spliced together by some crazed Eastern European scientist.

The heels are able to double up on Funk due to Yamada being taken out, with the crowd chanting for Yamada in an effort to get him to recover and help out The Funkster, which he eventually does by diving out onto Cactus. Yamada and Cactus actually do some nice stuff in the ring, with Yamada showing some good fire and Cactus showing his usual unselfish approach of bumping for and shining up his opponent, before catching him with a Double Arm DDT for the pin whilst Singh brawls with Funk outside.

WINNERS: TIGER & CACTUS
RATING: *1/2

Bit disjointed and all over the play, but it kept my attention. Tiger really dragged it down to be honest, as he wasn’t interested in selling anything and spent the whole match just stomping away at either Yamada or Funk whilst his blonde buddy helped him out. The Cactus bits with Funk and Yamada were good though

The fight goes on post-match, with Funk engaging his wild old man mode for a bit before getting overwhelmed. Yamada trying to crawl on top of Funk to save him from any more beatings is a great touch. Eventually Tarzan Goto has seen enough and chases the heels off with a chair to pop the crowd. I guess he’s a babyface now?

Match Nine
Katsumi Hirano and Shoji Nakamaki Vs Daikokubo Benkei & The Great Kabuki

I can’t find out much about Hirano, but he was apparently mostly a brawler who debuted in 1992. Benkei would go on to wrestle a lot for Big Japan, which was another company that did Deathmatch’s. Kabuki is a Japanese wrestling legend that was known for wearing face paint and spitting mist in people’s faces. The Great Muta character was inspired by his act. Kabuki is of course the most over of the four here, although Nakamaki gets his fair share of cheers as usual. I’m not sure if this one is actually a tournament match or not, as different match listings on different websites confirm different things.

This one is a tornado styled brawl right from the off, as everyone heads outside and Nakamaki is bleeding almost immediately. Things settle down into more of a normal tag team match following that, with Benkei and Nakamaki trading head butts, in a battle Nakamaki surprisingly loses. That would be like Kenta Kobashi losing a chop battle! Hirano would appear to have his left shoulder taped, so Kabuki and Benkei target it, with Hirano selling it well.

Hirano is on the defensive for a while, getting the odd hope spot here and there, and showing good defiance when he gets the chance to do something in reply. I’ve never really seen Hirano before, but his selling has impressed me. He eventually manages to tag out to Nakamaki, who goes to a Step-over Toehold Face-lock on Benkei, which leads to Kabuki cheap shotting him to break it. Well, so much for a hot tag! Kabuki throws Nakamaki face first into an unprotected turnbuckle and then both he and Benkei bite away at Nakamaki’s head wound.

Eventually Nakamaki and Hirano get some offence by applying a stereo leg lock on Kabuki, and that leads to Kabuki selling for a bit until Benkei makes the save to boo’s from certain sections of the crowd. The work has been fine here, if unremarkable, but the match itself has kind of just meandered and they haven’t really had any sustained heat. It’s not been awful or anything like that, and the psychology of the Kabuki team going after the bullseye that is Hirano’s taped shoulder makes complete sense, but it feels like the match needs to pick up the pace a bit.

That does eventually happen when Nakamaki comes in for a flurry on both heels, getting a DDT on Benkei for two before bringing Hirano back in with a lariat for another two. Sadly there’s a pretty obvious botch where Hirano tries to sunset flip Kabuki and it does awry, but they smartly cover for it by having Kabuki kick him down and then don’t repeat the spot, so it’s not too egregious and doesn’t hurt the match that much. Kabuki and Nakamaki fight outside the ring, with Kabuki attacking Nakamaki with chairs, which allows Benkei to splash Hirano back inside the ring for the three count.

WINNERS: KABUKI & BENKEI
RATING: *3/4

Dull in places, but it wasn’t too bad and featured some good selling from Hirano

Nakamaki cuts a promo in the ring following the defeat, where he appears to thank the crowd and they appreciate it. He then starts throwing his clothes into the crowd, but thankfully it’s only his shirt and elbow pads, and not his pants!

Main Event
NWA World Tag Team Title Tournament – Final
Cactus Jack and Tiger Jeet Singh Vs Tarzan Goto and Mr. Gannosuke

This one continues the trend of every match in this tournament seemingly starting as a brawl, with everyone fighting outside the ring from the opening bell. Tiger is of course doubling up on Gannosuke with his manager outside and hasn’t even taken off his entrance gear yet, whilst Cactus is in the ring working hard with Goto. This heel side couldn’t be more different when it comes to work ethic and working ability. Gannosuke was still young and dark haired here, but eventually he’d bleach his hair blonde and have a long running feud with Hayabusa in FMW, where Gannosuke would steal the Hayabusa gimmick for himself, leading to Hayabusa simply referring to himself as “H”.

Things do eventually settle down into more of a standard tag match, with both Goto and Gannosuke working Cactus over in their half of the ring. Goto throws Cactus outside at one stage and hits him with a chair before putting him back inside, as you can really see how this sort of wrestling in Japan was inspiring what we were seeing in the West with ECW. This show could easily be an ECW show from the same period when it comes to the in-ring style. At one stage Tiger drags a bleeding Gannosuke out of the ring and hits him with the ring bell whilst his manager assists him, which leads to Goto storming over with a chair and then chasing the manager through the crowd with it as the fans scatter.

This is the sort of wild anarchy that works when done right, and has the bonus effect of hiding the fact that Tiger isn’t an especially good worker, as all he has to do is brawl and hit the opponent with weapons, with Cactus coming in when actual wrestling is required. In one of the laziest things I’ve ever seen, Cactus and Tiger give Gannosuke a double suplex back inside the ring and Tiger doesn’t even fall back with it. Dude, it’s a chuffing suplex. It won’t hurt you to fall backwards when delivering it. Show some fashion of pride in your work Tiger for goodness sake! You’ve already got Cactus to do all the work for you, at least do the bare minimum that’s required, because right now you’re taking the pish.

Gannosuke sells the beat down from the heels well, with Goto constantly trying to get in and help him whilst the heels switch taking turns beating Gannosuke up outside the ring. Goto does finally get the tag and actually manages to make Tiger take something resembling a bump off a lariat. A Japanese Table (Mwa ha ha haaa) finds its way into the ring and Goto flings it at Cactus before successfully powerbombing him through it. Things break down, with Cactus both DDT’ing Gannosuke on the floor and then following up with an elbow off the apron. Tiger’s manager hits Cactus by accident with a weapon though, and that allows Goto to Brain Buster Cactus onto a chair for the three count.

WINNERS AND NEW CHAMPIONS: GOTO & GANNOSUKE
RATING: **

Cactus and Gannosuke looked good out there, Goto looked passable and Tiger was all kinds of awful, so ** feels like a fair rating overall

Goto and Gannosuke get their belts and a brawl starts up again, with Tiger’s manager fleeing a chair wielding Goto. Goto catches him though and hits him with multiple chair and Singapore cane shots. Well, that’ll sure show him I bet! Even Tiger’s manager takes bigger and better bumps than he does! I can see why people liked this company to be honest, as this sort of wild anarchic stuff wasn’t something you saw much outside of ECW at the time and ECW was inspired directly by stuff like this to begin with. Tiger and his manager attack Cactus once he finally gets in the locker room, which would seem to signify the end of their tag team pairing and possibly suggest a babyface singles run for Cactus.

In Conclusion

Not the best Japanese Wrestling tape you’ll ever see, but that Cactus Vs Goto match was really good and well worth a watch. The rest wasn’t great from a match quality perspective, but the Main Event was at least fun due to all the craziness that happened before, during and after it. I’d go thumbs in the middle for this one overall, but it’s not a terrible use of 90 minutes if you fancy watching some extreme Japanese brawling.