FMW VS. ECW – WITNESS THE MEDIOCRITY : INTERNATIONAL SLAUGHTERHOUSE

FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: INTERNATIONAL SLAUGHTERHOUSE

Pros: Perhaps the most accessible FMW DVD; recognizable ECW talent

Cons: Poor representation of either promotion featured here

Featuring matches from a stretch in 1997 and 1998 when wrestlers from Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling traveled across the Pacific to tour Japan, International Slaughterhouse is probably one of the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) DVDs I was most looking forward to watching. ECW was (and still is) my professional wrestling promotion of choice – this despite the fact that the promotion declared bankruptcy and closed up shop in 2001 – and featured much the same type of violent, hard-hitting wrestling action that FMW had first originated years earlier. Thus, one might imagine that a combination of the talent rosters of these two legendary promotions could only produce greatness…and he would be absolutely wrong in thinking that.

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If only this DVD had more action of this variety…Cactus Jack spills into a bed of barbed wire and broken glass. Ouch.

Simply put, International Slaughterhouse contains some of the most sloppy wrestling I’ve ever seen from either of the two wrestling promotions featured here – considering some of the previous FMW DVDs (and some ECW matches I’ve seen, for that matter), that’s saying something. Most every match here has numerous, immediately obvious “blown spots” or botched moves, and the climax of nearly every contest, precisely when a viewer would hope the action would be reaching a fever pitch of intensity, is typically when the biggest mistakes occur. To be truthful, this isn’t entirely surprising – for one thing, the Japanese wrestlers and referees spoke next to no English, thus communication between the FMW and ECW personnel would have been difficult if not impossible. Still, as great as it is to see my favorite ECW stars in their heyday – ECW was at its peak in the period from around 1996-98 – it’s a bit disconcerting to see how downright shoddy the individual performances on this program truly are.

As with the previous pair of FMW DVDs from TokyoPop, commentary here is provided by play-by-play man John Watanabe and color commentator Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski. This pair does a decent job of covering the action – but when wrestlers obviously blow moves, I would have hoped these two would at least acknowledge the blunder. Instead, the duo seems to assume a viewer isn’t smart enough to notice faults in the wrestling, which is probably a bad decision – there’s a reason why wrestling fans hip to the game are known as “smart marks.” A further problem with this particular volume of TokyoPop’s FMW series is the fact that the native Japanese language commentary present in the video footage is very noticeable under the English, making the entire audio track kind of muddy. Combined with the fact that almost all the matches here have been hacked to smithereens by the video editors, a viewer is faced with a strictly mediocre compilation that simply isn’t the slam-bang wrestling DVD he would have hoped for.

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Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer make their way to the ring.

After starting off with an in-ring introduction from ECW founder/president Paul Heyman himself, the program continues with this lineup of matches:

1. Terry Funk vs. Buh Buh Ray Dudley vs. The Sandman : A fairly typical ECW 3-way-dance, pitting tag team specialist Dudley against the rough and tumble Sandman and living legend Funk. A ladder is introduced at some point in this match (watch for the moment when Funk does his usual spin-o-rama move with the ladder), but the general flow of the contest is different from what I’d expect this match to be like in the states – Funk was so popular in Japan in the 1990s that it was exceedingly rare that he would lose or even get manhandled in a wrestling match. This is the first of the matches here with a sloppy conclusion, and in this heavily truncated form, I can’t give it more than two stars out of a possible five.

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Sandman’s typical ring entrance – it wouldn’t be complete without a cigarette, a beer, and a Singapore Cane.

2. Gedo and Jado vs. The Dudley Boyz (Buh Buh Ray and D-Von) : An even more worthless tag team match that has precious few highlights even after much of the contest has been lost in the editing room. It’s instantly apparent that there’s virtually no way for the Dudleys (easily, the best tag team in ECW at the time) to communicate with their Japanese opponents. Thus, even if their cooperative moves are pretty impressive, the contest is an absolute trainwreck, ruined by an obnoxious, exceedingly lame ending. One and a half stars.

3. Terry Funk, Tommy Dreamer, and The Sandman vs. Mike “Gladiator” Awesome, Mr. Ganosuke, and Kintaro WING Kanemura : More heavily truncated wrestling, this time featuring the ECW team of Sandman, Funk, and Dreamer versus the Japanese team of Awesome, Ganosuke, and Kanemura. Mainly, this is an out of control brawl that takes place both in and out of the ring. Gotta love the slugfest that a bloodied Funk gets into with Kanemura at one point while cleaning house in the ring, but I’d only give the contest two stars.

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The Dudley Boyz – most hated tag team in the world circa 1997.

4. Terry Funk and Tommy Dreamer vs. “Bad Boy” Hido and Mike “Gladiator” Awesome vs. The Dudley Boyz : Six-man tag match in which the tag team rules have basically been tossed out the window – all six guys are in (or out of) the ring, slugging it out the whole time. Nice to see gorgeous valet Beulah McGillicutty at ringside, but she doesn’t figure much into a match that sees blatantly dumb spots (the six-man chain headlock is absolutely ridiculous) and more messy move combinations (the attempt at the Dudley’s finishing move, the “3-D”, is downright pathetic). Highlight of the contest: Japanese wrestler Hido, quite obviously the “odd man out” in this contest, taking a cymbal (yes, a cymbal) to the dome and being eliminated very early on. It’s also funny to see the lengths the Americans are willing to go in order to “get over” in the eyes of the Japanese fans. Can we say GOOFY! Two and a half stars.

5. Gedo and Jado vs. Ricky Fuji and John Kronus : Gotta feel sorry for Kronus (one half of the legendary Eliminators tag team) in this contest which features him performing with three Japanese wrestlers. The guy just frequently looks lost, never quite getting into any sort of rhythm even if he does get to, with the help of Fuji, pull off the signature move “Total Elimination.” There’s really not much going in this heavily edited match; a waste of tape. One and a half stars.

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Tajiri’s Tarantula submission.

6. Super Crazy vs. Yoshihiro Tajiri : A perfect example of why wrestling matches should never be edited down to highlights, this match features two of ECW’s most technically gifted, fast-paced performers, yet it’s completely impossible to judge how good or bad this match is: we can never appreciate its flow due to the starts and stops in the video editing. Sure, it’s cool to see Tajiri pull off the Tarantula submission (in which he wraps his opponent up in the ring ropes much like a spider would trap a fly) and Super Crazy demonstrating the surfboard hold, but the match seems inconsequential. I’d be shocked if this match wasn’t great, but these highlights simply don’t do it justice. Two and a half stars.

7. Sabu vs. Kintaro WING Kanemura vs. One Man Gang : Gulp! Any match from the late 1990s featuring One Man Gang (a legendary wrestler who made a name for himself in the late 1980s) has the very real possibility of being scary – the man was simply out of shape and unable to really perform at any sort of acceptable level. Here, a rather portly Gang faces the rugged Kanemura as well as Sabu, a wrestler who takes more positively absurd risks in the ring than just about any performer I’ve ever seen. This pretty much is a recipe for disaster. OK, so Gang (huffing and puffing like crazy) gets to use his trademark chain – but once he’s eliminated from the match, this one can really get going. Sabu, per usual, performs some jaw-dropping moves, at one point dumping Kanemura from the top rope through a ringside table, but I was less than impressed by a springboard splash in which he obviously misses the landing. Kanemura, being the pro that he is, sells the move anyway – but the video producers provide a slo-mo replay, making the mistake all the more obvious even as the announce team plays off the move like it landed. Just awful. Overall though, this match is better than the average on this DVD; a grueling contest loaded with weapon spots and brutality. Three stars.

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Sabu vs. Terry Funk in a 1997 barbed wire deathmatch – one of the most gruesome matches the wrestling world has ever seen.

8. Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Masato Tanaka : FINALLY – a match shown IN ITS ENTIRETY! It’s a good thing too – both these guys are top-notch performers and really put on a show here. Bigelow, a legend of the sport who’s wrestled big-time matches all over the world, manhandles Tanaka early on, but the popular and extremely resilient Japanese wrestler mounts a comeback and eventually gets to pull off some power moves of his own. After brawling all over the arena – including the backstage area – Bigelow demonstrates his strength by bench pressing the extremely stout Tanaka over his head, then unceremoniously dumping him outside the ring. Tanaka responds by powerbombing the 350 pound Bigelow off the top rope. Wow – these moves are demonstrations of pure, unadulterated power! This match is downright exciting with back and forth action…until Tanaka doesn’t quite take the finishing move properly, ensuring that this is another contest with a dud ending. A shame really, still I’ll give it four stars.

Video Bonus Match 1. Sabu and Rob Van Dam vs. The Dudley Boyz : A match for the ECW Tag Team Championship, this is about as wild a contest as would be expected from this group of wrestlers. At the time, Van Dam was probably the most gifted and precise technician in ECW, and when paired up with the almost suicidal Sabu, the results were dynamite. Tag champs The Dudleys on the other hand, were arguably the most hated tag team in pro wrestling history, and no slouches in the wrestling department themselves. Quite a bit of action in this contest and a fine display of teamwork from all the combatants – the Japanese referee wisely just stands back and lets these guys go at it. Though exciting as it builds to climax, the bout has some laughable elements – not the least of which is watching Buh Buh Ray Dudley overselling all the moves that come his way in increasingly ridiculous fashion. The Japanese announce team calling this match is constantly on the verge of cracking up laughing. No English language commentary here, but the match is shown in its entirety; I’d give it three and a half stars.

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Left to right: Bam Bam Bigelow, Francine, “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, Chris Candido. Sad fact: half the people pictured here died way before their time.

DVD Bonus Match 2. Tommy Dreamer vs. “The Franchise” Shane Douglas : ECW World Heavyweight Title match between two longtime stars of the promotion. Douglas performs the match essentially one handed: apparently, he had a broken wrist/arm at the time and his arm is in a cast. Dreamer takes full advantage of this injury, but the match almost works in a manner that suggests the “less in more” approach used (famously) by Jerry “The King” Lawler throughout his career. There are some rough moves, with Dreamer in particular taking some nasty shots (many, as is often the case in his matches, to the groin). Douglas’ manager Francine frequently interjects in the match, and the most enjoyable aspect of the contest is listening to the Japanese commentators start to lose their minds whenever Francine (wearing a short skirt with a thong underneath) bends over as she gets in and out of the ring. Highlight occurs when Dreamer applies the “vaginal claw” to Francine: not the most politically correct thing I’ve ever seen in a wrestling match, but the announce team positively goes bonkers. I’m not sure I’d call this match a classic or even great, but it’s certainly entertaining. Again, no English language commentary, but the match is shown complete. Three stars.

Sad to say that even though, given the presence of recognizable American wrestlers, this is the most accessible FMW DVD, in no way, shape, or form is it a solid or even good representation of the best either FMW or ECW has to offer. A viewer would almost need hipwaders to get through the awful early matches on the disc to reach the solid main event and worthwhile bonus matches – the only ones here shown in their entirety. All in all, I probably wouldn’t recommend International Slaughterhouse except to the hardcore wrestling fans who would probably watch it irregardless of the overall quality. Casual wrestling fans need not waste their time.

“Uncensored Version” DVD from TokyoPop contains all the violence intact and is full-frame format; decent quality taken from VHS masters. Aside from the two aforementioned bonus matches (presented only with their original Japanese language commentary), the only extra is a gallery of wrestler bios.

4/10 : Given the reputation of these two promotions (to say nothing about the name of the DVD itself), I would have expected worse. This DVD actually focuses more on hard-hitting technical wrestling than any of the “violent crap.” Brief, relatively minor bloodshed and some extreme wrestling action.

5/10 : Some strong, four-letter profanity in both the promos and the matches themselves.

2/10 : Judging from the Japanese language commentary tracks, SOMEBODY was getting pretty excited during moments when valet Francine got involved with the action. This program may be a little risque, but it’s still nothing much.

5/10 : Each of the wrestling promotions represented here has their admirers, but I don’t think anyone is particularly well-served by this mediocre compilation of matches.

Explanation of ECW’s roster of talent: “They get in there. They battle. They brawl. They drink their beers. They eat their cheeseburgers, but they are fierce competitors.”

The Sandman in action (Possible NSFW):

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