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"Death Match"

"Death Match" Puroresu is the variety of pro-wrestling that could trace its lineage back to a number of North American territories (especially those throughout Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Puerto Rico) and characters (the Funks, the Sheik, Curtis Iaukea and Abdullah the Butcher). All Japan, under the influence of Funks, became the home to some the wildest action in the world. A young junior heavyweight named Atsushi Onita was exposed to this environment and found himself in the territories best known for this violence. After a knee injury forced him into retirement, Onita took a few years and evaluated the pro-wrestling scene in Japan. He would open his own company in 1989 that combined the trendy "wrestler vs. martial artist" battles, brutal and bloody matches and an independent spirit in FMW (Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling).

Onita himself was the top babyface and over the next few years, he turned toward over-the-top gimmick matches as he'd witnessed in Puerto Rico. In the 1990s, Onita innovated "death matches" using barbed wire, explosives and other violent gimmicks. He came up with many dimensions to his promotion: women's wrestling, martial artists, luchadors, veteran gaijin as well as new gaijin talent. As FMW grew successful, other promotions started up and used the "death match" approach. First was W*ING (Wrestling International New Generation), started by Wally Yamaguchi after a falling out in 1991. They developed a cult-like following, but lasted only a short time. Afterward, Victor Quinones and others helped start International Wrestling Association of Japan (IWA Japan), which became a legitimate threat to FMW in the mid-1990s. They raided talent, ran the famous "King of the Death Match Tournament" on FMW's home turf, but burned out relatively quickly. Another group, BJPW (Big Japan Pro-Wrestling), started by the Great Kojika and Kendo Nagasaki, did stick around. After the retirement of Atsushi Onita, FMW established a better overall product, created alliances with various companies and remained a viable mid-sized wrestling promotion. Japan's independent scene exploded with all manner of niche companies from shoot-style and lucha libre to women and the handicapped. Some of these featured "death match" wrestling such as Onita Pro, Tokyo Pro and NOW, but only ran spot shows.

As the millenium turned, the biggest company, FMW, saw tumultuous times. Under the direction of President Shoichi Arai and booker Kodo Fuyuki, the promotion turned toward a WWF-influenced "Entertainment style" of pro-wrestling. While they had a great legacy and often delivered entertaining matches, they were slowly dying creatively and financially. The career-ending injury of Hayabusa seemingly pushed FMW past its breaking point as it closed shop in 2002 and Arai commited suicide shortly afterward to cover debts. FMW talent would disperse throughout the puroresu world with many ending up opening up companies themselves, including WEW, WMF, Apache Army, Shin-W*ing, Super FMW, 666 and FREEDOMS.

As FMW faded, Big Japan bloomed. They had some excellent homegrown talent, briefly aligned with New Japan and a rapid fan base that allowed them to survive their first five years where others had died or fizzled out. BJW would work with CZW (a small ultra-violent American indy group) in an interpromotional feud with mixed results. After FMW's demise, they were able to become the undisputed "death match" company and they had the talent and contacts to be a successful independent. They are still going steady to this day and have lasted longer than FMW and although IWA Japan still exists, it is a shadow of itself and no longer a death match company.


FMW - Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (1989-2002)

Cactus Jack 
W*ing Kanemura
The Thrillseekers (Chris Jericho & Lance Storm)
Shark Tsuchiya
Combat Toyoda

W*ING - Wrestling International New Generations (1991-1994)

Boogie Man (Eddie Gilbert)
Crypt Keeper (Jose Estrada Jr.)
Kim Duk
Tarzan Goto
Jason the Terrible (Tracy Smothers)
Yukihiro Kanemura
Mitsuhiro Matsunaga
Miguel Perez Jr.
Mr. Pogo

IWA Japan - International Wrestling Association Japan (1994-2014)

Cactus Jack
Terry Funk
Tarzan Goto
Mitsuhiro Matsunaga 
Shoji Nakamaki
Mr. Pogo
Yoshihiro Tajiri


BJPW / BJW - Big Japan Wrestling (1995-)

Ryuji Yamakawa