FRONTIER MARTIAL-ARTS WRESTLING: FINAL ENCOUNTER
Pros: Decent main event matches – that are GASP! shown in their entirety
Cons: Severe editing during the undercard and some so-called matches that are just plain awful
Initially started in 1989 as a promotion based around so-called “garbage wrestling” that involved brawling, extremely violent stipulation matches, and the use of weapons, Japanese wrestling organization Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (or FMW) had by the year 2000 completely changed its main focus. While FMW would still put on the occasional deathmatch and did feature more blood and outright violence than one would find in the mainstream American promotions of the late ‘90s, the days of matches like the “exploding swimming pool death match” were over by 2000, and FMW was devoting more and more time to outrageous in-ring antics in an effort to be more “entertainment” oriented.
FMW was originally based more on extreme violence and stipulation matches, where sights like this were common. And you thought wrestling was .
Chronicling the “Backdraft” pay-per-view event which took place May 5, 2000 at the Komazawa Indoor Stadium in Tokyo Japan, the 2002 DVD release Final Encounter demonstrates that notion perfectly as it highlights eight of the nine total matches on the card that night. Unfortunately, the DVD is problematic right off the bat without even taking match quality into account. Many of the matches seen are clipped (i.e. edited) to the point of no return, showing only selected highlights of the various contests. This unsurprisingly severely disrupts the flow of the bouts and makes it increasingly difficult for a viewer to really get into the action. It also should be said that the undercard matches at the Backdraft event were by and large pathetic: even judicious editing on the part of the producers can’t convince me that several of the matches here are any good at all. To be honest, FMW’s roster of wrestlers had some genuine talent at one end – and pure jobber material at the other: the worst wrestlers in the promotion simply couldn’t hold their own in the ring and seemed incapable of having a worthwhile match. As a result, many FMW events were very much a mixed bag, with really good main events and a lot of trash leading up to them and that’s certainly the case with Backdraft.
Though there were some legit stars left, by 2000, the FMW talent pool was running pretty slim…
As if Tokyopop’s tendency to hack matches apart in the editing room wasn’t bad enough, the announce team featured on their FMW releases doesn’t help to make these programs any better. The team of John Watanabe and Dan “The Mouth” Lovranski simply don’t generate much interest in what’s taking place: listening to these two bungle through the program really makes me miss the good ol’ days of my youth when the likes of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Joey Styles (among others) would both entertain and excite the viewers with their commentary. Watanabe’s idea of making the program compelling is to repeatedly scream the names of various moves into the microphone, while Lovranski tries and fails to be a “heel” color commentator for the action (i.e. be “the bad guy”). Overall, the commentary only further sinks the already questionable Final Encounter.
That face about sums it up when it comes to the commentary of Watanabe and Lovranski.
Without further ado, here’s the match rundown:
1. Ricky Fuji vs. Crazy Boy : Mexican wrestler Crazy Boy (first cousin of ECW’s Super Crazy) takes on Fuji, the Japanese version of Shawn Michaels, in this heavily edited opening match. Probably the highlight of the whole, rather lousy affair is seeing (and hearing) the apparently tone-deaf Fuji crooning on his way to the ring while being followed by some of the most unenthusiastic floozies you’ll ever see near a wrestling ring. As for the match itself, as good as it gets is seeing the Mexican combatant performing some of his trademark aerial moves, including the three-tier moonsault (in which he hits Fuji with the move performed from each of the three ring ropes in succession). Lackluster to say the least, I’d only give the match one star (out of a possible five).
Ricky Fuji: he looks intimidating, then he starts singing.
2. June Kusanagi vs. Kaoruka Arai : Japanese AV actress (i.e. porn star) Kusanagi takes on the niece of FMW president Mr. Arai (who’s decked out in a schoolgirl costume) in this supposed match that’s really just a series of incredibly sloppy basic moves and a lot of pushing and shoving. Watching these two pretend to wrestle is excruciatingly sad: the only highlight (??) of the match (sadly, shown in its entirety) occurs when Arai awkwardly performs a Britney Spears-like dance in the center of the ring. Oh, did I mention wrestler Flying Kid Ichihara is the guest referee and will “go out” with the winner of the match? Yawn. No stars – it fails even as cheesecake.
Anyone looking for another of FMW’s classic women’s matches won’t find it on this program.
3. Yuka Nakamura, Emi Motokawa, & Azusa Kudo vs. Kaori Nakayama, Chocoball Mukai, & Kyoko Inoue : A six-person match shown in highlighted form, with female wrestlers Nakamura, Motokawa, Nakayama, and Inoue involved in a match that also features male porn star Chocoball Mukai and Azusa Kudo, who reportedly had a male-to-female sex change operation. What??!? Though there are a few legitimate wrestling moves in the match (the surfboard press performed by Inoue is actually really impressive), the “high point” of the match occurs when Kudo performs a crotch-biting maneuver against Mukai. Pretty tasteless, even by the standards of pro wrestling, and not at all a good match. I’m giving it a half a star due to the handful of actual moves which pop up intermittently.
Chocoball Mukai: not a wrestler.
4. Yoshinori “Mammoth” Sasaki & Hideki Hosaka vs. Matty Samu & Eddie Fatu : WEW Hardcore Tag Team Titles are on the line as champions Sasaki and Hosaka defend against the “Samoan Gangster Party” of Samu and Fatu (the late brother of the WWE’s Rikishi who also wrestled under the name “Umaga”). Shown in highlighted form, this match turns into a rambling brawl that’s fought all over the arena. Since it’s a hardcore match, both Sasaki and Hosaka bleed profusely for almost no reason whatsoever and the match features a lot of tables and chair shots. Culminating in a spot which finds Hosaka gingerly performing a crossbody from a ringside scaffold onto Fatu, the match nonetheless feels completely pointless with minimal buildup and next to no excitement despite the level of violence and destruction. Two stars.
Sasaki brawling in the middle of the cheap seats.
5. Kintaro Kanemura vs. Ryuji Yamakawa : FMW star Kanemura takes on Yamakawa, who made a name for himself in the even more violent Big Japan promotion, in this contest for the WEW Hardcore Title. As might be expected, this brawl spreads out to the farthest reaches of the Komazawa Stadium, including the main hallway where Yamakawa introduces fluorescent light tubes into the mix. Despite these weapon shots and the use of multiple chairs and tables, the most brutal thing in the match occurs when Kanemura is suplexed onto the unyielding floor in the refreshment area: there’s simply no faking some things in pro wrestling and taking a bump on cement just can’t feel very good. As the match nears its conclusion, it features some very rough in-ring action, including a pretty sick DDT from the top rope. Though again shown only in highlights, this is by far the best match on the program to this point. Three stars.
Kanemura preparing to slam Yamakawa to the mat.
6. Sabu vs. Mr. Gannosuke : ECW star Sabu (whose wrestling style not just slightly resembles that of FMW’s Hayabusa) takes on one of the obvious villain wrestlers in Japan in this grueling contest, shown only in highlights (which is disappointing considering that the cover art of the DVD features an image from this match). The always-reliable Sabu utilizes his trademark innovative offensive, spring-boarding off chairs to perform splashes, dropping a leg to put Gannosuke through a table, and even pulling out a spike to rip the Japanese wrestler’s forehead open with. It’s a virtual spot-fest throughout, with Gannosuke at one point delivering a fire thunder driver through a table, but the ending (following a pair of fireballs) is disappointing. Three stars.
Gannosuke drives Sabu through a table at ringside.
7. Kodo Fuyuki vs. Tetsuhiro Kuroda : WEW Title is up for grabs, as Fuyuki (who was kicked out of FMW after a “loser leaves town” match a few months previous yet was back in the promotion in record time) returns to stake a claim on the championship he created. Kuroda (who appears laughably small put alongside the barrel-chested Fuyuki) enters as the champ, but quickly finds himself on the receiving end of fork shots to the head from Fuyuki. To be honest, this entire contest seems like a mismatch, with Fuyuki generally dominating against the genuinely overpowered Kuroda, though the champ does his best to keep things interesting. Match reaches a low point when, after smacking Kuroda over the head with a satchel of eggs, Fuyuki drapes a pair of mens’ briefs over the champion’s face – which is not removed for several minutes. Fuyuki’s patented Plastic Surgery Facelock submission hold also looks really bad as performed here, but he does get credit for unloading a fire extinguisher into the face of his opponent at one point. I’m not sure I can really get behind a title match that builds up to be a battle of the clotheslines, but this hard-fought match is significantly better than any of the opening matches here – and is shown in its entirety. Three and a half stars.
Fuyuki preparing to crack Kuroda with a broken piece of a table.
8. Masato Tanaka vs. Hayabusa : By this point in his career, the popular Tanaka was transforming himself into the premiere “bad guy” in the promotion, and here takes on his one-time friend Hayabusa in a match which finds both competitors throwing caution to the wind. It’s matches like this (shown in full) that demonstrate what FMW performers were capable of when at their best: after a methodical start to the contest, these two trade jaw-dropping moves for the majority of the bout. There are some unbelievable sequences here: Hayabusa performs a moonsault, follows up with a Fisherman Bomb, which leads into the Firebird Splash and finally a Falcon Arrow. Another wild sequence culminates in Hayabusa being powerbombed over the ring ropes towards a table on the outside. When he mostly misses the table however, his head and neck land flush on the concrete floor. Ouch. Non-stop action here reaches mind-blowing intensity when Tanaka quite literally T-bones Hayabusa directly on his head with a suplex. This is the kind of move that ends careers (as Hayabusa would find out the following year when he was legitimately paralyzed following a botched in-ring maneuver), but the match nevertheless continues towards a thrilling finish. The only downside is that the camera coverage repeatedly shows a stone-faced Jinsei Shinzaki (the Japanese wrestler who performed in America under the name of “Hakushi”) sitting ringside; even with this distraction, I’d call it a classic bout. Four stars.
Hayabusa connects on Tanaka.
Despite the fact that the main event certainly delivers the goods, Final Encounter never quite is able to overcome a definitively awful first couple of matches, and it ultimately stands as an appropriately mediocre finale to TokyoPop’s FMW video series. I’ve often wondered why the producers of these programs chose to include so many matches that were frankly unflattering to the performers involved – or to the FMW promotion in general. In the case of Final Encounter, including the undercard matches makes sense (even if the extreme truncation of these contests is infuriating), but this video series as a whole (which I would assume was trying to showcase the “best” of the promotion) winds up being perfectly underwhelming.
It’s odd that the TokyoPop DVDs don’t cover many of the matches from FMW’s glory days.
Circa the year 2000 when TokyoPop’s FMW series started to see release in the states, Japanese wrestling was extremely hard to find outside of the tape trading circle, so I was thrilled to be able to watch FMW events at all. Fifteen years later, the general sloppiness of many of these matches is glaring and I can’t help but feel that FMW (which folded in 2002) would have been better off to remain true to its “garbage wrestling” roots. Spectacle is more important than the technical brilliance of any performers involved in that sort of match, and I believe a more niche-oriented approach would have made better use of the promotion’s (somewhat meager) relative level of roster talent. Regardless, despite the rather spotty quality of this series, I can’t help but enjoy these FMW releases on a certain level: they’re reflective of an era in pro wrestling that will likely never occur again. Though I can’t in good conscience give Final Encounter (or many of the other domestic FMW releases for that matter) a glowing rating, I think many fans of the sport (particularly those who can appreciate the more violent and outrageous aspects of it) would enjoy or at least be interested in it.
The DVD from Tokyopop is a decent quality, full-screen transfer from the original VHS masters. Aside from a collection of trailers and gallery of wrestler biographies, the DVD includes two bonus matches as extras:
1. Hayabusa and Jinsei Shinzaki vs. Mr. Gannosuke and Kintaro Kanemura : More or less shown in its entirety with no commentary, this is a matchup for the FMW tag team titles between the obvious fan favorite team of Shinzaki and Hayabusa and the title-holding villain squad of Gannosuke and Kanemura. While Hayabusa’s wrestling prowess had been pretty well established by earlier volumes in the FMW series, this match goes a long way in proving Shinzaki’s in-ring abilities. A close-range, acrobatic head kick onto Kanemura is especially impressive. For their part, Gannosuke and Kanemura work quite well as a team and succeed at making things ugly: both Shinzaki and Hayabusa are driven through tables outside the ring (Shinzaki being powerbombed over the top rope is a definite highlight of the contest). After a wild final few minutes in which a barbed wire-covered baseball bat is introduced, there’s a surprise ending. A better match than I might have expected: three and a half stars.
2. Kodo Fuyuki and Kintaro Kanemura vs. Jado and Gedo : Tag team champions Fuyuki and Kanemura take on the veteran team of Jado and Gedo in this contest which takes place in a half-empty arena with a tropical island set in the background (??!?). Extensively edited, the contest seems even more low key and unexciting, with Jado and Gedo doing a fine job of isolating their opponents in the ring. Fuyuki, of course, cleans house at one point and gets to do his famous war cry, but there’s really nothing of note that takes place during the contest. One and half stars.
5/10 : Quite a few matches on the card feature someone getting “busted wide open” and there is some pretty gnarly violence at times – par for the course in FMW and not nearly as extreme as some Japanese wrestling discs I’ve seen.
1/10 : A few adult themes and related dialogue; nothing major.
1/10 : The catfight between porn star Jun Kasanagi and schoolgirl Kaoruko Arai might do it for some people, but there’s not much here.
5/10 : Generally forgettable as a disc of Japanese wrestling and a rather sad way to close the FMW video series.
Hayabusa endearing himself to the fans: “Look at my face closely in that monitor. I lost my front teeth. Don’t I look silly?”