THE VERDICT DON’T LOOK SO GOOD…FMW’S THE JUDGMENT

FRONTIER MARTIAL ARTS WRESTLING: THE JUDGMENT

Pros: Tanaka vs. Fuyuki in an electrified cage

Cons: Highly-touted main event fizzles and the undercard is truncated to the point of incomprehensibility

By 1999, Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) had begun a transition to become more like what American organizations like the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were doing: in short, FMW was becoming based more on entertainment. This was quite a contrast to how things were when FMW was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a “garbage wrestling” promotion: where weapons, stipulation matches, and extreme violence were common place while rules were mostly thrown aside. In 1995, Onita sold the promotion to businessman Shoichi Arai, who toned down the violence (partly due to the fact that FMW was getting beaten at its own game by rival promotion Big Japan Pro Wrestling who sanctioned the most insane stipulation matches in history, including ones involving piranhas, scorpions, spider web barbed wire matches, and more) and set the company off in a new direction, though I’m not quite sure that focusing on pure wrestling and entertainment value was the way to go. Frankly, though the roster of FMW wrestlers was capable and many performers were undoubtedly willing to work incredibly hard during their matches, they didn’t have the “pop” or overwhelming technical prowess that would be needed to sell the promotion as a WWF-like organization.

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Atsushi Onita, on right, taking on one of the least talented, yet most famous wrestlers in Japan: Tiger Jeet Singh.

November 12, 1999 saw FMW mark its tenth anniversary with a show taking place at Yokohama Stadium. This event (billed as “Judgment Day”) would showcase numerous feuds that had been brewing in the organization over the previous months and in some cases, years. Unfortunately, the focus on entertainment value means that this whole card of action (featured in the TokyoPop DVD release entitled The Judgment) seems quite gimmicky. While I can appreciate technical wrestling if it’s done well, I’ve never been overly impressed with the technicality on display on any FMW DVD I’ve seen. Frequently, I might have described FMW wrestling as being downright sloppy.

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NOT how you land a boot to the face…

I (and probably many other fans) first became interested in FMW due to the proliferation of violent stipulation matches: these were the types of matches that were usually avoided in the United States and, having grown up with Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling, a promotion that often focused on more hard-hitting and violent action, I probably was more blood-thirsty than the typical fan of World Wrestling Entertainment. Honestly, the stipulations contest and graphic violence were what put FMW on the map – and how the promotion was sold in the United States by TokyoPop. For Judgment Day to seem rather tame by the sometimes excessive standards of Japanese wrestling is a definite disappointment, but more damning is the fact that this DVD features heavily truncated matches that really weren’t all that great to begin with. These matches wrap up a few major soap opera-like storylines sure, but the overall program lacks punch.

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Kanemura swinging a barbed wire bat that’s on fire. Now THAT‘s FMW.

Commentary on this DVD was provided by the pairing of John Watanabe on play-by-play and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski doing color commentary. I suppose the announcing is passable, but neither of these two guys really “sells” the wrestling in a manner to benefit what’s being seen. A good announcer (ECW’s Joey Styles comes to mind) can make even a dud match seem exciting and much better than it actually is. The somewhat lethargic commentary of Watanabe and Lovranski doesn’t heighten the excitement of any of the matches here, and having Lovranski scream and holler every once in a while makes the program annoying rather than compelling.

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But wrestling’s fake…

The first six matches on this DVD (out of the eight total) are presented only in highlighted form, edited down to being only a few minutes in length. This, to me, is highly irritating: it disrupts the ebbs and flows of the match, making it almost impossible for a viewer to determine if the match really was worthwhile at all. With that in mind, here’s the match rundown:

1. Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. “Choco Ball” Mukai, “Flying Kid” Ichihara and Ricky Fuji – A ladder match for the World Entertainment Wrestling six man tag team title, in which the title belt is suspended above the ring. A wrestler must scale the ladder and grab the belt to win the match for his team. Considering that Mukai is better known for his porno movies rather than his wrestling ability (you don’t wanna know how he got his nickname) says about all one needs to know here, and speaks to the fact that FMW was more interested in spectacle and sensationalism than athletic ability by this point in time. High point of the match arguably occurs when two females at ringside perform competing strip routines, thus distracting the male performers, and eventually get into a catfight. Yawn. One and a half stars (out of a possible five).

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“Choco Ball” Mukai – not a wrestler.

2. Kaori Nakayama and Emi Motokawa vs. Miss Mongol, Jazz, and Maria Hosaka – 2 on 3 womens handicap match for the Womens Tag Team Title. ECW performer Jazz joins the mix here, which pits obvious “babyface” team of Nakayama and Motokawa versus the more rough’n’tumble Mongol and Hosaka. This match seems fairly fast-paced but again, it’s impossible to judge this since we’re only seeing match highlights. There are some slick technical moves here and it appears to be a decent but unexceptional contest. Two and a half stars.

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Kaori Nakayama (for better or worse) became the face of FMW Women’s wrestling upon the retirement of Megumi Kudo.

3. “Bad Boy” Hido vs. Willy Williams – Here’s a rather bizarre event on a fight lineup that was already somewhat wonky. It’s basically a mixed-martial arts fight, with pro wrestler Hido taking on famous boxer/martial artist Williams in a match in which both fighters wear boxing gloves. There’s a combination of pro wrestling moves and traditional martial arts seen in the match, with Hido being on the receiving end of some extremely stiff kicks and strikes coming his way. Certainly an interesting contest, though it’s not exactly a barn-burner. Two stars.

Hido, here utilizing what appears to be the ring bell hammer, in my mind was one of the least talented performers in the promotion.

4. Naohiko Yamazaki and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. The Funk Brothers (Terry and Dory Funk Jr.) – For the first time since 1987, the legendary Funk brothers make an appearance in Japan as a tag team. Unfortunately, by this time Dory (who had to be in his mid-to-late 60s at the time) doesn’t seem all that interested in being in a match in the first place: moving very slowly and performing the same move over and over during his limited in-ring time (“…and another forearm…”). Terry does most of the work here, taunting his opponents with trash talk and doing the patented Funk “stumble ‘n’ bumble” like only he can. Always great to see Terry Funk in action, even in a somewhat iffy contest like this. Three stars just because it’s the Funks.

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Unfortunately, this picture of the Funks was taken almost thirty years prior to their 1999 reunion.

5. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Balls Mahoney – Kanemura, a wrestler famous for his violent, hardcore wrestling style takes on ECW’s own “chair-swinging freak” Mahoney in this “anything goes” match for the WEW Hardcore Title. Fight goes outside the ring and into the parking garage, where a parked sedan is positively destroyed by the two performers. Watch out for the powerbomb on the roof of the car and use of the broken windshield to slice up Mahoney’s face. Despite the rowdiness, this isn’t as bloody as one might expect, though it does have a punctuation mark finale involving the ring entrance set and scaffolding. Wild stuff, though not a classic. Three stars.

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There’s something you don’t see everyday: a powerbomb on top of a car.

6. Tetsuhiro Kuroda and Hisakatsu Ooya vs. Tommy Dreamer and Raven – Renegade Japanese wrestler Kuroda and seasoned veteran Ooya take on the unlikely pairing of American wrestlers Dreamer and Raven, who had a ridiculously intense feud in the mid ‘90s while wrestling in ECW. This match is for the WEW Tag Team Title, and is pretty hard-hitting and wild, as might be expected from the ECW team. Dreamer gets abused particularly badly during the match, taking shots with a ladder and even a piece of the guardrail that’s thrown into the ring. Also, ECW valet Francine (wearing an extremely revealing outfit) gets involved in the contest, if only for a brief moment. This match was OK, but nothing spectacular – one might have expected more from the usually reliable Dreamer and Raven. Three stars.

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Dreamer and Raven had some outrageous matches in their ECW days, including this steel cage war.

Finally, we reach the co-main event, which is presented in its entirety:
7. Kodo Fuyuki vs. Masato Tanaka for the WEW Heavyweight Title. This match, billed as a “Loser Leaves FMW, Thunderbolt Cage Match” takes place inside an electrified steel cage: get sent into the metal and a wrestler gets a jolt of “15,000 volts.” Yeah, I don’t believe it either, but the spectacle is “sold” well through the use of explosive charges and neon-like visualizations of flowing electricity. Match itself is easily the best on this card: these two veteran fighters had feuded extensively leading up to this match, which showcases the pure power each man brought to the table. Tanaka is arguably one of the legit toughest wrestlers I’ve ever seen step in the ring: this guy gets dropped directly on his skull several times, then gets right back up and continues fighting. I realize wrestlers know how to take “bumps,” but there’s a point where one simply can’t fake gravity. A very effective build up to the finale means that this match is quite exciting and tense to watch, especially since (if you believe the storyline) “the future of FMW hangs in the balance.” Yeah, OK – I’m just glad there was at least one, definitively worthwhile contest on this DVD. Four stars.

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That’s what you call absorbing a chair shot – Tanaka’s head emerges looking better than the chair.

The main event here was a match between Eiji Ezaki (the original Hayabusa, the most popular wrestler in FMW, billed here simply as “H”) and Masashi Honda (known in the ring as “Mr. Gannosuke,” and here billed as “Hayabusa II” after adopting the Hayabusa gimmick in a story angle). These two “former friends gone wrong” had been feuding in FMW for years at this point – a match between the two also featured as the main event of FMW’s Yokohama Deathmatch program. Immediately previous to this match, they’d also taken part in the infamous “Anal Bomb Match” in which the loser had a firecracker inserted into his bum and exploded. Yes, that’s about as insane as Japanese wrestling has ever gotten.

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The infamous “anal bomb” match.

Their “Judgment Day” match was officiated by none other than WWE superstar Shawn Michaels (“I wanna make sure Michaels can even count to three…do we know that for a fact?”), who (unsurprisingly) found himself getting involved in the contest at various points. After the insane lead-up to this fight, one might have been expecting something phenomenal…but that’s simply not what we got here. This match actually is rather sluggish; it’s much more about psychology than dazzling moves even if both guys show off their trademark superior wrestling technique. It’s not that the match is awful: it’s perfectly acceptable, and demonstrates the chemistry these two performers have with one another. Still, compared to the absolutely ridiculous main events that viewers expect to see in the world of pro wrestling, this is just a bummer, most notable for what occurs post-fight. I’m giving it three stars.

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Gannosuke caught up in one of Hayabusa’s submissions.

To be completely honest, The Judgment is one of the most painfully mediocre FMW DVDs in the TokyoPop home video series. There’s plenty of talent on this card, but the fact that so much of the card is truncated to the point of no return makes it iffy, with the somewhat sketchy main event only further sinking the overall program. I suppose the point could be argued that this tenth anniversary event was more about settling up various FMW storylines and not necessarily focused on delivering the best matches the promotion has ever seen – but that’s about a asinine statement to make: why wouldn’t one expect the bar to be raised to a high level at this much-anticipated show? It’s almost as if this card proved that FMW simply was expecting a bit too much from its performers in trying to compete with the WWF: there’s no way this semi-bootleg Japanese promotion could rival the classic Andre-Hogan feuds or any number of other classic American (or for that matter, Japanese) wrestling moments. In the end, The Judgment might be worth a look to fans of Japanese wrestling, but it wouldn’t at all impress those accustomed to the larger-than-life approach that’s frequently taken in regard to American wrestling. I’d only moderately recommend it.

TokyoPop’s DVD is presented full screen; decent picture quality transferred from the original VHS masters. Extras included a selection of trailers, a gallery of wrestler profiles, two minutes of backstage footage taken following The Judgment‘s main event (even more lines of b.s. from the two performers!), and two highlighted bonus matches:

1. Masato Tanaka vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Jado, and Kintaro Kanemura – 1 on 3 handicap match, mainly establishing the Tanaka vs. Fuyuki angle. Funny that Jado and Fuyuki all but vanish from this match at a certain point, at which time FMW president Mr. Arai shows up at ringside to aid Tanaka. All in all, the match seems very gimmicky, and since we only see clips of the action, it’s somewhat pointless. One and a half stars.

2. H, “Flying Kid” Ichihara, Tetsuhiro Kuroda, and Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki vs. Hayabusa II, “Choco Ball” Mukai, Koji Nakagawa, and Gedo – A more fast-paced match; it should be considering there’s eight guys involved in this contest. Having said that, it’s really bizarre that at a certain point in these match highlights, this contest turns into a 4-on-1 match, in which the Hayabusa II team assaults Flying Kid’s valet. Match is interrupted by Kuroda, who storms the ring on a motorcycle – despite the fact the contest takes place at the crowded and cramped Korakuen Hall. As expected, it boils down to a slugfest between H and Hayabusa II, with stiff kicks being delivered by H. Has it’s moments, but the truncation doesn’t help. Two and a half stars.

5/10 : Some weapon spots, a few instances of blood, and violent wrestling action. The most brutal thing here is easily the Tanaka-Fuyuki cage match, and honestly, that’s nothing compared to the worst/best Japan had to offer.

4/10 : Intermittent profanity (usually delivered by the American stars appearing in the program). Gotta love that Terry Funk trash talk…

2/10 : A catfight breaks out at one point, and there are more scantily clad women than usual on this FMW DVD.

6/10 : Fans of Japanese wrestling would probably want to check this out, though it’s far from being the best compilation out there.

Shawn Michaels on FMW: “This is the reason FMW is the number one promotion is Japan – excellent athletes and one hell of sportsmanship.” Um, Engrish much? Also, your check can be picked up in the back office. Now go home.

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