Pros: Main events deliver the goods

Cons: They’re a long time coming…

Fifth in the TokyoPop DVD series highlighting Japanese wrestling from the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) promotion, Ring of Torture features a lineup of seven fights, all of which occurred on December 21, 1995 at the Yokohama Bunka Taikukan (or “cultural gymnasium”). FMW was started in 1989 and quickly went about revolutionizing the world of pro wrestling by introducing bloody, so-called “garbage wrestling” to the mainstream public. This style, sometimes referred to as “hardcore” or “extreme” wrestling, utilized weapons and often, crazy match stipulations such as barbed wire, broken glass, and even explosives. FMW eventually spawned many imitators in Japan and the United States, as promotions looked to capitalize on the popularity of extreme violence in wrestling matches. By the late 2000s however, the “hardcore” wrestling style had more or less fizzled out and most extreme wrestling promotions (including FMW as well as American organizations like ECW and XPW) had vanished. While some promotions focusing on graphic in-ring violence continue on the fringes of the wrestling industry, the major players in the business (i.e. the WWE) have minimized their focus on this style of in-ring combat.

As seems to be typical on these FMW DVDs, the opening few matches on Ring of Torture are generally pretty awful, though the trio of main event feature fights do (to an extent) deliver what a fan would expect. Still, having to sit through two womens matches featuring the likes of Miwa Sato and “Bad Nurse” Nakamura isn’t my idea of a good time: as much as the announce team of John Watanabe and Eric Geller try to sell female FMW wrestlers as being a step above their American eye-candy counterparts, Sato and Nakamura in particular just don’t cut it. Their sloppy, unexciting matches simply don’t belong on a video series that at least attempts to showcase the best this legendary, influential Japanese promotion had to offer. Not helping matters at all is fact that the producers of this disc have clipped the hell out of at least half of these matches: though on-screen graphics indicate the matches lasted in the 10-15 minute range, viewers of the program only get about five minutes or less of condensed, edited footage. It’s difficult then to really get a feel for and get into some of these contests: the selection of high-spots isn’t especially exciting to watch. I was especially disappointed by the lack of (usually hilarious) pre-match promos – to be honest, these are probably the aspect of FMW wrestling DVDs I look forward to the most. They were sorely missed on this disc.

The most damning element of the Americanized TokyoPop FMW DVDs however is its “humorous” presentation. Geller and Watanabe talk trash and crack idiotic jokes throughout the program while introducing the matches, relying on toilet humor (“John just farted…I think you better check your pants…”) or crude sexual remarks (“Someone who does great work on his knees is my partner here…”) that make this whole program seem to be directed towards twelve-year-olds. The announce duo’s actual commentating during the wrestling isn’t any better, as they invent ludicrous backstories for the matches while often ignoring the in-ring action. Aren’t these two supposed to be “selling” the contest? You wouldn’t know it from listening to them discuss just about anything other than the wrestling itself.

Here’s the lineup of matches included on this DVD:

1. Gekko vs. Gosaku Goshogawara – A very stiff fight in which the almost bird-like Gekko stalks his opponent, delivering brutal kicks and strikes at every opportunity. This squash match lasts just three minute (thus we actually see it in its entirety), but Gosaku is abused from start to finish, bleeding simply due to the stomps he’s taking in the head. Personally, I wish Gekko would have featured in more matches in this video series; his dominant performance here makes a strong impression and this was one of the matches from the FMW series that I remembered even years later. Three stars out of a possible five.

2. Miwa Sato vs. Kaori Nakayama – The first of two lame womens undercard matches, this one features numerous moves that obviously don’t connect and general sloppiness throughout. I would almost believe that Nakayama could hold her own in the ring, but not when she’s performing with the boat anchor that is Sato. At one point, Sato uses a towel as a whip, which is a good choice considering her utter lack of technical wrestling skill. Brief, inconsequential, forgettable. One star.

3. “Bad Nurse” Nakamura vs. Yukari Ishikura – Screaming females galore in this women’s bout that occasionally spills out of the ring. More often though, we get a series of missed opportunities inside the ropes. Even in condensed, highlighted form, there’s not much to see here as the contest is more or less another squash match. Be sure to turn down the volume lest Ishikura’s shrieks will give you a headache. One star.

4. Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Katutoshi Niyama – A definite improvement over the two matches immediately preceding it, this features an early exchange of stiff shots and slaps. These two guys put on a decent mid-card contest with a handful of exciting moves, including a nice drop kick from the top ropes performed by the more agile Kuroda. The stout Niyama is simply a powerhouse and attempts to bully his opponent into submission. After a nice buildup of intensity throughout the fight, there’s a hasty finish that’s a bit of a letdown. A middle-of-the-road, two and a half star bout.

5. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Pogo – A one-time standout technical wrestler, Mr. Pogo in FMW became the ultimate villain, a man who would stop at nothing to win, often using ninja weapons (a sickle being his weapon of choice) and fire to dominate and brutalize his opponents. One might think Pogo would have his work cut out for him in taking on Tanaka, arguably one of the two most talented performers in the promotion, but this wasn’t exactly the case. You see, for as much as Pogo was willing to dish out punishment on others, he was the type of wrestler who mostly refused to take bumps – essentially, he wouldn’t receive the same type of punishment he was dishing out. What we have here then is Tanaka being taken apart – literally – by an opponent in Pogo who carves up his face and arms with a serrated blade, suspends him by the neck out of the ring using a thick length of chain, and generally beats Tanaka senseless. Tanaka bleeds heavily during the match – watch as the white shirt he’s wearing to start the match slowly becomes covered in blood and dirt from being slammed on the concrete floor. Especially brutal is the trio of sick-looking pile drivers directly onto a barbed wire-covered baseball bat that Tanaka absorbs late in the going. I had to chuckle during a moment when Pogo is seen rubbing his sickle up and down the arm of Tanaka without actually making contact with the skin – OOPS! – where’s all that blood coming from then? Those looking for trademark FMW violence need look no further, but this one-sided match is kinda sketchy in my book. Three and a half stars.

6. Combat “Mother-in-Law” Toyoda and Bison Kimura vs. Megumi Kudo and Aja Kong – A women’s tag team match billed as the “Women’s Wrestling School Class of 1986 Reunion Match.” Obviously, then, one can assume these women know each other pretty well, and they certainly are of a talent level that ensures that they put on a solid technical bout with good tag team dynamics. Some rough action including hard-hitting striking and some nifty high-flying moves. It’s amusing to see the slim and trim Kudo working with this group of much bigger ladies: though she was the most popular female wrestler in the promotion, the under-sized Kudo could never in my mind convincingly stack up against most of her competition – a fact never illustrated better than during this contest. Though there are a few dumb moments (several biting attacks for instance), and sequences where Kong seems to be out of her league (her only offense during one stretch of the match is a never-ending string of headbutts), the match builds to a pretty exciting final stretch with many pinfall attempts and last-minute escapes. This is no classic, but placed on this generally underwhelming wrestling card, it seems better than it actually is. Three and a half stars.

7. Super Leather, Hido, and Kintaro WING Kanemura vs. Jason the Terrible, Mitsuhiro Matsunaga, and Hideki Hosaka – Billed as a six-man, “Caribbean Barbed Wire Spider Web, Double Hell Glass Crush Kenzan Death Match” (got all that?), this is one of the more crazy stipulation battles that put FMW on the map (and set the stage for rival Japanese promotion Big Japan to push the concepts of wacky stipulations to the absolute extreme). It’s a wild brawl from start to finish, with fighters battling all over the arena, getting thrown into barbed wire ropes, bleeding profusely, and occasionally being tossed into beds of barbed wire and broken glass placed alongside the ring. Matsunaga enters this match without wearing a shirt and at one point, has panes of glass shattered on his bare chest by an opponent wielding a nail-covered two-by-four. Jason (whose character is based on the villain from Friday the 13th) actually loses his mask early on in the fight (GASP!) and towards the end of the contest, Super Leather gets his dreadlocks caught up in the barbed wire and proceeds to drag a huge strand of it around the arena since he can’t get untangled. This match was more or less designed to showcase the ultra-extreme style of the WING faction in FMW who specialized in death matches. Considering that, it’s pretty amusing that Hido, a wrestler who (like Mr. Pogo) seemed to be very hesitant about taking nasty bumps into barbed wire and the like, participates in this match and proceeds to be annihilated by a series of power moves and stuff piledrivers while avoiding the plunder at all costs. As usual in death matches of this (exceedingly outrageous) variety, this match almost seems like overkill: too rowdy and manic to be genuinely exciting. Still, lots of blood and many violent spots. Three and a half stars.

Though it eventually delivers what one would expect and hope for, Ring of Torture is wildly inconsistent and doesn’t have any match that I’d consider to be a must-see. The main events are a long time coming, and a viewer has to sit through some pretty lousy wrestling displays to get to the good stuff. Even by the standards of the hit-or-miss FMW video series then, I’d have to call this program a slightly below average, somewhat disappointing entry that’s in no way helped along by the asinine commentary and severe truncating applied to some of the matches. Since it was nearly impossible to actually see FMW wrestling in the United States at the times these discs were put out in the early 2000s, I appreciate the fact that this series did focus its attention on this obscure Japanese promotion. Still, I can’t help but wish that TokyoPop had taken their approach to the programs more seriously – as a whole, these discs seem very amateurish and borderline ridiculous. Ultimately, Ring of Torture would probably be recommended only for fans of the promotion: it’s a decent time-waste, but those used to more polished sports entertainment would likely be underwhelmed.

“Uncensored Version” DVD from Tokyo Pop is decent-looking full-frame (from original VHS masters) and contains all the gory tidbits removed for television broadcast. The disc also features much the same bonus features as other FMW discs: featurette on wrestler Hayabusa, wrestler bios, history of FMW essay, optional English or Japanese language commentary, and isolated “wrestling school 101” segments. The bonus match included on the DVD is:

Masato Tanaka, Koji Nakagawa, and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura, Hideki Hosaka, and Hido – This is a perfect example of a match being clipped into oblivion: a fifteen minute contest reduced to two and a half minutes. Are we really supposed to even care what happens here? It looks like a pretty solid technical battle, but makes no sense towards the end when his teammates abandon Hido, who takes the brunt of the “Tanaka blast.” Dumb. No stars; it’s not even worth it.

7/10 : Pogo versus Tanaka features some pretty extreme blood loss on the part of Tanaka; main event is similarly violent and gory.

5/10: A handful of four-letter curse words seen in the subtitles; some crude and adult humor in the English-language commentary.

0/10: Women in spandex, grinding on one another.

7/10: A pair of extreme death matches gives this Japanese wrestling program some added punch.

Eric Geller at his most classy: “I have got a bo…Hey, can I say ‘boner?’…I have got a boner about this match!”

FMW Women Go to War!

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