Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: WAR OF ATTRITION

Pros: The one match shown in its entirety is pretty great

Cons: Heavy truncation of matches that seem very gimmicky; way too much (confounding) storyline material

Opening with a recap of the tenth anniversary show for Japanese wrestling promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (which was released on video as The Judgment), War of Attrition is the aptly-named twelfth volume in TokyoPop Home Video’s FMW series. While some programs in the series provided “best of FMW” style compilations and others (like the aforementioned Judgment) featured entire individual events, War of Attrition exists solely as a “clean up” (or filler if you like) program in which a hodgepodge of matches is screened for the viewer: its sole reason for existence is to tie The Judgment to the next major FMW card, entitled “Backdraft” that occurred roughly six months later in May of the year 2000. As such, Attrition mostly focuses on the soap opera aspects of pro wrestling, following various storylines that existed in FMW circa late 1999 and early 2000. Though the matches here do feature many of the top talents in the promotion, this disc as a whole is not something that I’d probably be all that enthused about recommending, even to fans of Japanese wrestling.

Long before the WWE, FMW proclaimed itself as “entertainment.”

Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling was founded in 1989 by legendary wrestler Atsushi Onita as a sort of hardcore or “garbage” promotion – most of the traditional rules of the squared circle were relaxed to the point of almost being nonexistent, and FMW matches frequently involved use of weapons or outrageous stipulations. FMW pioneered many so-called “death matches” including ones involving electrified barbed wire, exploding land mines, and more and this style of hardcore or “extreme” wrestling was eventually borrowed by various other promotions, and perhaps used most effectively in the United States by Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling. By 1999, FMW had entered into a sort of talent swap program with ECW in which American wrestlers would appear in Japan and Japanese performers would occasionally make tours of the states. Around this same time, FMW also was in the process of becoming more “entertainment-oriented:” instead of focusing on rough and often bloody hardcore action and stipulation matches, the promotion was attempting to become more similar to the mainstream American promotions WWF and WCW, a move that in my opinion was rather questionable.

this kind of match
One probably wasn’t going to see this kind of match in FMW circa 1999, which is kind of a shame really.

Nevertheless, drama seemed to take precedence over wrestling by 2000 and to that end, numerous feuds and storyline arcs were going on during this time period, with the main one revolved around a struggle for power in the organization between H (the wrestler formerly known as Hayabusa) and Masato Tanaka. Both these extremely talented performers had aspirations to be the best, most well-known superstar in FMW – and had the credentials to back up their arguments. By 2000, Tanaka had not only become a star in Japan, but also had a run as ECW’s Heavyweight Champion after a series of ridiculously hard-hitting battles with Mike Awesome, while H was easily the most popular figure in FMW. A clash between these two had been brewing for years and War of Attrition’s main goal seems to be to set the table for the inevitable showdown which would occur at the “Backdraft” event.

Hayabusa and Tanaka during happier times. By 2000, their feud was the biggest in the promotion.

Providing commentary throughout the program is the usual team of John Watanabe and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski who are tolerable but nothing more. Neither of these announcers really take the program to the next level, and neither are as compelling to listen to as guys like Jim Ross, Joey Styles, or (God forbid) Gorilla Monsoon. Adding to the problems on War of Attrition is the fact that virtually none of the ten matches included here is seen in its entirety. Clipping these matches down to shreds of “highlight material” ruins the flow of the action – as a whole, this plays more like an episode of than a honest wrestling tape. For my money, the truncation of many if not most matches was the biggest problem with TokyoPop’s FMW series: I was willing to look past individually sloppy wrestling to an extent, but the heavy editing on these DVDs makes watching them borderline on being absolutely pointless. War of Attrition is probably the worst volume of the FMW video series in this regard.

can be
Sloppy wrestling is sloppy.

Here’s the “matches” included on the program.

1. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Axl Rotten (12.11.1999) – One of the most rough and tumble wrestlers in FMW takes on Rotten, who was known as one of the most violent performers in ECW mainly due to his notorious battles with his “brother” Ian. As expected, this match gets ugly, with the use of a fork to carve open the head of Kanemura, both men being slammed into and through piles of chairs, and a pretty crazy senton bomb from the top of a ladder which puts Rotten through a table. What’s more shocking is the handful of technical moves in the match: I never thought I’d see Rotten pulling off a superplex in this match, but it does indeed happen. While the match seemed decent, I can’t give this collection of highlights any higher than a two star rating.

balls, tanaka, axl
From left, Balls Mahoney, Masato Tanaka, Axl Rotten.

2. Masato Tanaka vs. Balls Mahoney (12.11.1999) – Another match featuring an FMW standout taking on an ECW star. This match is a bit more technically-based than the previous one – Mahoney actually was fairly capable as a technician, though he usually adopted the style of a brawler. Both he and Tanaka take some pretty sick chair shots in the contest, which sees Axl Rotten join Mahoney at ringside to offer assistance. Lots of rough action, though again, heavy editing ruins the match. Two stars.

Tajiri, one of the more “eccentric” performers in ECW.

3. Kintaro Kanemura, Koji Nakagawa, Jado and Gedo vs. Balls Mahoney, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Super Crazy, and Axl Rotten (12.12.1999) – About as wild a group of wrestlers as one could get in one match, this out-of-control 8-man tag match sees the fight taken all over the arena and only intermittently being fought one-on-one in the center of the ring. The best moves here are (unsurprisingly) pulled off by ECW combatants Tajiri and Super Crazy – these two perform simultaneous, dual somersault presses flipping over the top ropes at one point and Tajiri also locks up his famous Tarantula submission. Very difficult to keep tabs on what’s happening during the match in these highlights; though I suspect the contest was pretty amazing to see, it pretty much stinks when edited down to smithereens. One and a half stars.

scamble fire match
The infamous “Scramble Fire Death Match” in which Kanemura was powerbombed into a pool of burning gasoline by Jado, resulting in third-degree burns on 75% of his back.

4. H and Mr. Gannosuke vs. Masato Tanaka and Tetsuhiro Kuroda (12.12.1999) – WEW Tag Team Title match that’s also a key moment in the feud between Tanaka and H. During the contest, a pumped-up Tanaka seems to be showing off his improved technique and raw power since this match occurred just after his first tour of duty in ECW. There’s some decent scientific wrestling here as Tanaka works over Gannosuke’s legs and arms, eventually unloading a wicked dragon screw that’s dazzling to say the least. Once H (finally) gets into the match, he’s like a house on fire for a few minutes, nailing Tanaka with a devastating fisherman bomb that shows Tanaka’s ability to absorb tremendous punishment. It’s Kuroda being abused late in the going, though Tanaka eventually empties the tank on his opponents by running through his repertoire of power moves. A really exciting match – but why wouldn’t the producers of the DVD just show the whole damn thing? Three stars.

I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, but it looks like Hido (left), Fuyuki (middle), and Kanemura (right) are abusing and/or molesting Kuroda (legs spread???).

5. H, Mr. Gannosuke, Hisakatsu Oya, and Ricky Fuji vs. Kodo Fuyuki, Kyoko Inoue, Balls Mahoney, and Pitbull #1 (1.5.2000) – Eight person tag team match – labeled as such since female wrestler Inoue participates in this match on the ECW Japan team of Fuyuki, who previously had been “kicked out” of FMW but nonetheless was written back into the scr…I mean found a loophole to re-enter the promotion. This highlighted match begins with Fuji attempting to sing “Sexy Boy,” a.k.a. the entrance music of WWE star Shawn Michaels, in mangled Engrish. Cover your ears is all I have to say. Once the match gets going, it’s perhaps most notable for being one of the few times that H (now clearly established in the storyline as FMW’s chosen messiah) bleeds like a faucet. He’s absolutely covered in blood right off the bat after being attacked with (you guessed it!) a fork. Other than that, the match seems very gimmicky, with quick tags and decent pace, but not much in the way of genuine excitement. Again, the match is heavily truncated, making it difficult to really gauge its true quality. Two stars.

kuroda tanaka
Slapping contest between Kuroda (left) and Tanaka.

6. Masato Tanaka vs. Tetsuhiro Kuroda (1.5.2000) – Former tag team partners square off for the WEW Heavyweight Title. Though he’s a solid technician, Kuroda’s never much impressed me as a compelling performer. That said, he really ups his game here, showing his ability as a counter-wrestler. Both competitors attempt to “one-up” one another with a dazzling array of maneuvers; this is easily the most exciting and jaw-dropping match on the DVD, helped by the fact that it’s the only match shown in its entirety. After battling in the stands, Kuroda and Tanaka exchange big-time power moves in the center of the ring. Very tough, back and forth action with a truckload of near pinfalls; the ending of the match is a bit surprising (or maybe not). Either way, the highlight of the disc for me. Four stars.

Some sort of spike being driven into the head of Kodo Fuyuki by Mr. Gannosuke.

7. Kodo Fuyuki and Kyoko Inoue vs. H and Mr. Gannosuke (2.25.2000) – Another gimmicky match for the WEW Tag Team Titles; remember, Inoue is a woman. She is pretty much pulverized early on by H and Gannosuke, but even when Fuyuki enters the match, his gingerly movements don’t do anything to improve the contest. Seriously – Fuyuki looks awful during this match and one has to wonder how in the world he was even being booked at this point. His story lines stank and he simply couldn’t pull it off in the ring. A thoroughly inconsequential match, with a dumb ending. Remember when actor David Arquette won the WCW Heavyweight Title? Like that, this is total soap opera. One star.

Fuyuki vs. Kuroda
Fuyuki and Kuroda battling it out.

8. Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. Kodo Fuyuki (3.27.2000) – For the WEW Heavyweight Title. Not so much a match (especially in this highlighted form) as an excuse to have a locker room clearing brawl, with virtually every wrestler in the promotion entering the ring at some point, thus nullifying the match. To give you some idea about the relative quality, Tracy Smothers gets involved. Oh my. Absolutely worthless, and doesn’t settle a thing. One star.

Tracy Smothers – the man who was once a respected wrestler was a complete joke by 2000.

9. Masato Tanaka and Balls Mahoney vs. H and Mr. Gannosuke (4.11.2000) – Fire thunder driver from top rope puts H out of action immediately in the match; he’s carted backstage, leaving Gannosuke to fight for himself. At least until (groan!) Kodo Fuyuki enters himself in the contest to fight Tanaka. Lots of dirty tactics from Tanaka, who’s clearly become a heel (i.e. villain) at this point in his career: check out the moment when he chokes Gannosuke with a TV cable. Eventually, who should return in the match but Hayabusa – mask and all – who proceeds to deliver his patented aerial moves and trades finishers back and forth with Tanaka. Decent enough even with all the drama, but I would’ve liked to have seen the whole match. Three stars.

Tanaka appears to be in an uncomfortable position versus Mr. Gannosuke…

10. Masato Tanaka vs. Mr. Gannosuke (4.25.2000) – Borderline squash match designed only to create more drama and tension between Tanaka, Gannosuke, and Hayabusa leading into the “Backdraft” event. Match is almost irrelevant: edited down to a mere two minutes or so, most of which consists of Gannosuke bleeding heavily and getting beaten up by Tanaka. Post-match confrontation between H (no mask) and Gannosuke is confusing, and indicates that even the writers behind the scenes were starting to lose touch with where they wanted this story arc to go. It completely loses me, and the perplexing script only makes War of Attrition as a whole more disappointing. One star for the match.

Even if I could argue that some of the previous FMW DVDs were messy, none approaches the level of ineptitude which seeps through War of Attrition. As mentioned, the storylines that we’re supposed to be following throughout this haphazard collection of matches is inexplicable, and since a viewer doesn’t even see a whole lot of straight-forward wrestling on the DVD in the first place, I’m left wondering what the point of this DVD really was. Viewed in the chronology of TokyoPop’s FMW series, I suppose War of Attrition would have some value since it does chronicle a period of time in the bigger history of the promotion. Unfortunately, most everyone involved at this point doesn’t seem to have so much as a clue what’s happening in the bigger picture – and that’s doubly true for the writers behind the scenes. Their storytelling is starting to get noticeably muddled, and that’s dangerous in the often black and white world of pro wrestling. After viewing this DVD, it’s not surprising at all that FMW as a promotion would fold less than two years following these matches: the company seems disjointed and mismanaged, and it really seems like the writers were clutching at straws in an attempt to maintain audience interest. There’s simply too much soap opera shenanigans and gimmicks here, and not enough wrestling. For all but the most ardent fan of Japanese wrestling, the frustrating, confusing, and generally pointless War of Attrition would best be avoided.

Full-frame DVD from Tokyo Pop includes the usual trailer collection and wrestler bios as well as two bonus matches:
1. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Flying Kid Ichihara (1.5.2000) – Pretty typical FMW singles match with some rough action, pitting an almost jovial-seeming Kanemura against the more technical wrestler Ichihara. The action spills outside the ring almost immediately in the match highlights shown here, with Ichihara being slammed into a pile of chairs and the two combatants brawling into the bleacher area. Japanese commentary only is provided for this match, which I’d rate as a two-star bout: it’s not especially exciting.

2. Hisakatsu Oya and Tetsuhiro Kuroda vs. H and Mr. Ganosuke – For the WEW Tag Team Titles, this contest seems a bit more substantial but is still seen only in highlighted form. An exchange of submission holds early on eventually gives way to a lot of power moves later. Many near pinfalls and good tag team dynamics between the combatants; the match also demonstrates that no one in FMW apparently knows how to sell the Kuroda Crunch (where Kuroda drops his opponent’s neck across the top rope). A decent contest, but not at all surprising. Two and a half stars.

6/10 : A few matches include some rather excessive amounts of bloodletting; there are also a few fairly violent moments including forks slicing into human flesh. Pass the potatoes!

5/10 : It’s all fairly tame until a promo scene in which FMW president Mr. Arai confronts a group of ECW wrestlers. Suddenly, the f-bomb quotient of the program goes through the roof.

0/10 : Inter-gender wrestling may interest some, but there’s not much here to get excited about.

5/10 : Too much soap opera and story to be of interest to anyone but the most hardcore Japanese wrestling fan.

Drama! Tension! Men in Spandex! Thems is Fightin Words! –  “It wasn’t a good idea to bite my head off. It pissed me off. He’s gone too far.”

Hayabusa – the Falcon!

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