THE PROMOS ARE BETTER THAN THE WRESTLING ITSELF: FMW – THE LEGEND DAWNS

Pros: Hayabusa versus Mike Awesome feud; hilarious promos by the wrestlers
Cons: Horace Boulder’s wrestling “skills”; atrocious DVD presentation; “humor”; mixed bag of matches

The Legend Dawns, second volume of TokyoPop’s video series of Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) from Japan, turns out to be even more a hit or miss effort than the first volume (King of the Death Match). I’m appreciative of the fact that this video series focuses on this Japanese wrestling promotion known for its violent, extreme style – when this DVD released in 2000, it was very hard to find any Japanese wrestling available on video in the USA outside of the bootleg/tape trade scene. That said, the production on this DVD series – especially in the early volumes – is pretty much junk. I noticed several times where one can audibly hear director Neil Mandt calling “action” at the front end of the “humorous” (or, in my opinion, completely infantile) studio segments that bookend the actual matches and which feature play by play man John Watanabe and (crap) color commentator Eric Gellar joking around with one another. The actual commentary from this pair of morons during the matches fares little better than their introductory skits – I’m not sure it’s even worth getting into the completely made-up “backstories” for the wrestlers provided by the glaringly untalented writing team of Mandt, Arthur Borman, and Paul Tarantino. It’s as if the FMW video series was written for and by 12-year-olds fascinated by crude sexual humor and fart jokes.

On the actual wrestling front, The Legend Dawns at least is acceptable, though I don’t think average fan completely uninterested in so-called “garbage wrestling” that uses weapons and frequently features bloodshed during matches, would be all that impressed. Some of the FMW wrestlers are legitimately talented, and the tone of action featured here is generally pretty rough if not downright violent. On the other hand, there is a lot of sloppiness in evidence during many of the matches, and some big-time botched moves. I also found that not many of the matches included in this volume were particularly exciting to watch, and one of the main reasons for this is that they’ve nearly been clipped to oblivion by the DVD producers. Essentially, a viewer only gets highlights of any match here, not the whole match from start to finish. In my estimation, this ruins the pace of the wrestling action, giving the viewer a herky-jerky assembly of highlights instead of the normal ebbs and flows of a contest. Combined with the questionable value of some of these matches in the first place, the fact we don’t even see the entire match kind of ruins this volume of the FMW video series. As a whole, the DVD is probably only essential for those who really enjoy extreme and/or Japanese wrestling – and even they are likely to be underwhelmed.

With the first five matches on the DVD from Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall on 7.13.1995 and the last three from 7.30.1995, here’s the match rundown and description:

The action begins with a women’s match, in which Combat “Mother-in-Law” Toyoda was set to take on (and probably annihilate) Bad Nurse Nakamura. However, pre-match, Toyoda’s underling Miwa Sato pleads to take Toyoda’s place in the bout. After some soap opera hysterics, Sato is inserted into the contest and we get a completely unexceptional (to the point of being boring) ladies match in which there’s quite a bit of hair-pulling and screeching, and very few impressive moves. These two move around the ring pretty well, but the string of clotheslines and bitch slaps grows tiresome: the match lacks any big-time highlights. Thankfully, it’s a pretty brief match (perhaps enjoyable only to see the horrific, exaggerated “acting” of Sato both pre- and post-match) though I’d suspect many viewers would be prone to skip it entirely. One star out of five.

I’ve often commented that the intros and wrestler promos made for FMW matches are about the best thing going in their promotion: they are frequently hilariously awful, as Japanese performers stumble through Engrish and the ragtag group of Americans in the promotion deliver some of the most outrageously constipated “angry white guy” dialogues ever seen and heard. A tag team match between the team of Bad Boy Hido and Super Leather and that of Ricky Fuji and Horace Boulder (Hulk Hogan’s nephew) contains one of the best Japanese wrestling promos I’ve ever seen, as Fuji mangles his English-language dialogue and Boulder looks as though he hasn’t defecated in at least four months. The match itself (as might be expected from this gaggle of wrestlers) is fairly atrocious. Boulder may be one of the most gangly, least-talented and poorly-coordinated wrestlers I’ve ever seen; watch as he botches move after move (the table suplex onto a prove Super Leather being the lowpoint), looking confused throughout much of the match. Super Leather (a wrestler based off Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface) is another woefully untalented wrestler: the guy was inexplicably extremely popular in Japan (and a longtime FMW champion) but typically had matches that resembled train wrecks. As is the case with many matches on this DVD, this one is heavily truncated, resulting in footage of men scrambling around ringside, a few of the least-punishing looking in-ring moves you’ll ever see, and a match that sort of starts, does something, and ends before a viewer is even sure what the hell just happened. The wrestling match is a one and half star waste of time – but oh so worthwhile due to the jaw-dropping, must-see promos.

Third on the lineup is a women’s match, pitting old rivals Shark Tsuchiya and Megumi Kudo against one another. Tsuchiya is obviously the bigger, more powerful and more violent competitor here; Kudo the more graceful, technical wrestler. The result is a contest that has a bit of everything, from a tightrope act on the ring ropes, to a barbed wire-coated kendo stick and use of a length of chain as a strangulation device. This is pretty much the back and forth battle of good versus evil that one would expect, with Kudo wearing traditional Chinese warrior garb for whatever reason and, on a few occasions, using the mystical “green mist” to blind her opponents. Yeah. Eventually, this one breaks down into a straight up rumble between the women competitors in FMW. I’ll give it two and a half stars – a definite improvement over the first two matches on this program, but nothing truly special.

The late Mike “Gladiator” Awesome is a wrestler who had some degree of success in both the US (with stints in ECW, WCW, and the WWE) and Japan: a big, powerful guy who’s exactly the type of American who could “get over” in the land of the rising sun. He also had perhaps some of the most laughable mic skills ever seen in pro wrestling – in this next match, pitting Awesome and Hisakatsu Oya against fan favorite, high-flying wrestler Hayabusa and his partner Katsutoshi Niiyama, Awesome spits and hollers like a madman in his pre-match interview. Say what you like about him, but Awesome actually had some impressive in-ring moves, able to fly off the top-rope like a flyweight and deliver some seriously nasty powerbombs and slams. Hayabusa, on the other hand, is known for his more graceful acrobatic moves, and this tag team match basically served to heighten the feud between those two (with the stout, workmanlike wrestler Niiyama and technically gifted grappler Oya along for the ride). Easily, this is the most exciting match to this point on The Legend Dawns, with lots of back and forth pinfall attempts, submission holds, and power moves. Hayabusa is in the ring for much of the time (surprise!), and the buildup to the finish is pretty captivating. Three and a half stars.

FMW goes for full on bloodbath for the fifth match on this DVD: a barbed wire, lights out deathmatch between two veterans of the format. Mitsuhiro Matsunaga (arguably the most extreme wrestler in Japan for his willingness to battle in any kind of deathmatch) took on the garbage wrestling star most unwilling to take a bump, Mr. Pogo. Since the arena lights have been turned off for this match, it’s often difficult to see what’s actually happening – this also has the added benefit of obscuring the fact that the “extreme violence” in this match is often concocted by illusion rather than by actually slicing and dicing either of the wrestlers. At one point, Pogo heats up a large fork with a blowtorch – then switches the heated fork out for a fresh one which he digs into the scar-tissue-covered forehead of Matsunaga. And WTF is with the glow in the dark sickle? Obviously, lots of blood in this match – with Matsunaga doing most of the bleeding – and a fiery conclusion that’s pretty wild. This certainly ups the level of violence on the DVD, but it’s not what I’d call a classic deathmatch by any stretch. Two and a half stars.

Following this string of action from inside Korakuen Hall, The Legend Dawns shifts its attention to an outdoor pavilion, where the familiar Masato Tanaka (who wrestled in ECW in the late 1990s) takes on Yukihiro “WING” Kanemura. This fight, unlike many on the program, is pretty much a straight-up wrestling match (surprising considering Kanemura’s extreme wrestling pedigree), and starts off with some seriously stiff kick and strike exchanges between the two men. Early on in the match, Tanaka appears to suffer an knee injury and is hobbled throughout the rest of the match – or is this a ploy to make it seem like the much less talented Kanemura actually has a chance to beat him? Either way, this seems like a pretty decent technical match that’s been edited down to be bare-bones filler on this DVD; I would have really liked to have seen the whole match, but alas, we’re left with a brief snippet. I’m giving it a generous three stars.

In a “Graveyard Match” (that features barbed wire galore and the stipulation that the loser has to be dumped into a casket and held down for a full ten count inside the box), the team of Mr. Pogo and Horace Boulder takes on Mitsuhiro Matsunaga and his partner Super Leather. Gotta love the intro video with Leatherface shaking the chainsaw and growling like a rabid badger. The match itself is gruesome at times – as expected, Pogo uses a steak knife to rip up Matsunaga’s forehead and at one point, has him suspended outside the ring by a chain around his neck. Highlight (?) of the match comes when camera zooms in to see Matsunaga clearly blading his scalp viciously. Oops! At some point during this match, Super Leather all but vanishes, leaving Matsunaga to absorb all sorts of punishment. This match almost has too much “violent crap” for it to even mean anything – there’s blood all over, but does a viewer even care? Two and a half stars for the spectacle.

The final match on this program is unarguably the best match here: a singles contest between Mike “Gladiator” Awesome and Hayabusa, a further chapter in their feud. Hayabusa’s aerial moves during the match alternate between being highly impressive (a hurricanrana from the top rope, dumping the huge 6’7” Awesome halfway across the ring) and utterly sloppy – at one point, he botches a moonsault, landing on a prone Awesome neck and head first. The crumbling of his spinal column just looks horrible, but amazingly, the man was able to continue in the match. This one features a nice buildup to the finale, and a pretty astounding series of back and forth moves and pinfall attempts towards its end – and doesn’t necessarily work out as one might have expected, setting up further, intense battles between these two fighters. Four stars – best on the disc.

All things considered, The Legend Dawns seems painfully mediocre. It’s a disc that probably will give the viewer a fix if he’s jonesing for some violent Japanese wrestling, but there’s really only one match here that’s truly recommendable – and only that match that seems to be presented in its entirely. Combined with the amateurish presentation, adolescent-level humor, and poor commentating, the fact that almost all of the matches here are presented in highlighted form only, without showing the viewer the entire match, makes this disc almost contemptible. As the FMW DVD series went along, these problems would be fixed to some extent, but in many ways, someone has to be a pretty big fan of pro wrestling to endure these early efforts from TokyoPop.

“Uncensored Version” DVD from TokyoPop includes the brutality in all its blood-drenched glory and is full-frame; decent picture quality considering the transfer from VHS tape masters. Disc features English-language and original Japanese play-by-play audio options and optional Spanish subtitles. Extras include wrestler biographies, a photo gallery, text-based history of the FMW, a short profile of Hayabusa, and a bonus match:

Masato Tanaka versus Koji Nakagawa – A rather rough pure grappling match in which Tanaka seems to be “playing down” to the talent level of his opponent. He spends much of the match feigning injury while Nakagawa delivers the paltry offense he had. In any other promotion, this is likely to have been a “jobber match” in which Tanaka just decimated Nakagawa. Few big moves, but really a clinic from Tanaka. Two and a half stars – but why is this match shown essentially intact when others here have been torn to shreds by the editors?

7/10 – Certainly more violent and bloody than most American wrestling fans would be used to and does have some intense moments. Still, there’s worse, much more gory and downright brutal wrestling discs out there.

4/10 – Some four-letter profanity (though most all of it is in the subtitles) and some rough language. Maybe one or two f-bombs.

0/10 – Most people would be hard pressed to get excited over this – even if they do enjoy seeing women bump uglies whilst wearing Spandex

7/10 – Garbage wrestling from Japan has both its fan and detractors. I’d certainly call it an acquired taste.

(in mangled Engrish) “Razorface! Razorface? Who da hellarrryuu? You monster oar human. What?”

A Real Winner of an FMW Pre-Match Promo:

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