Stateside, the summer of 1995 was an era in American professional wrestling that saw the continuation of the “New Generation” of wrestlers in the WWF such as Diesel, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, and Bret Hart. Hulk Hogan was already in WCW and on September 4th, 1995, Monday Nitro was launched to go head-to-head against WWF’s Monday Night Raw. In Japan, AJPW and NJPW were still the “Big Two” but the previous years had been an eye-opener for there was a feisty number three promotion called FMW that refused to go away quietly. In the process, it had inadvertently helped spawn several deathmatch promotions vying for the spotlight as well.
FMW Post-Atsushi Onita
After former FMW owner Atsushi Onita’s temporary retirement from wrestling and the selling of the company to Shoichi Arai, FMW was struggling to draw fans to their events mostly because previously, the shows were mostly focused around Onita. For several months under the new administration, there was really no established star that people wanted to pay money to go see.
Did you know? When in Japan wrestling for FMW, Sabu and Mike Awesome got into it with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia), The Original Sheik almost died in a match after the ring caught on fire, and that there was an angle where Atsushi Onita got ‘stabbed’ by José González (killer of Bruiser Brody)? Read more in our highly recommended article, FMW – Rise To Prominence Led by Deathmatch Superstar, Atsushi Onita.
In May of 1995, the promotion began to build around Hayabusa, a budding high-flying star in the making that would go to great lengths to try and please the fans, but in their eyes, he was no Onita. He’d eventually carry the promotion upon his shoulders, but that was still months away for that to even commence. Even worse, Onita faced Hayabusa in his retirement match on May 5th, 1995 but decided against putting him over. So Hayabusa’s struggle to get the fan’s respect after Onita’s retirement became an uphill battle because most saw him as weaker than the former owner.
Somewhat surprisingly, woman wrestler Megumi Kudo was becoming a better draw than Hayabusa. Still, their house shows were attracting less than 1000 fans, and most only stuck around for Kudo’s match. If you take Kudo out of the equation, this actually dropped attendance numbers to around 250 per show.
Fortunately, FMW’s attendance numbers improved after some better booking, roster changes, and fans beginning to appreciate Hayabusa’s spectacular high-flying and high-risk offensive arsenal in matches against The Gladiator (Mike Awesome) where he showed a lot of heart. But their rival IWA was paying close attention and realized that the numbers were not even close to when Onita was leading the promotion.
The IWA and The Kawasaki Dream
IWA (International Wrestling Association) led by Victor Quiñones and other former members of FMW’s previous deathmatch rival: W*ING (Wrestling International New Generations), felt that this was the opportune time to land a knockout blow to the struggling FMW and prove that they were the premier deathmatch promotion in Japan. With Terry Funk, Mick Foley performing as Cactus Jack, and former FMW star Tarzan Goto, the IWA was feeling pretty confident that they could organize a successful stadium show and draw thousands of people; something that FMW at the time with the recently departed Onita could not. Six months earlier, “in front of an estimated 150 people in a cold little gym,” Cactus Jack and Terry Funk put the small IWA promotion on the map after an extremely bloody and violent match that Foley to this day calls “the match I’m proudest of.”
The IWA was poised and chomping at the bit to showcase this blood feud on a much bigger stage.
On August 20th, 1995, Kawasaki Stadium would host the first-ever eight-man single-elimination deathmatch tournament that would determine what is now known amongst fans as the “King Of The Deathmatch.”
The quality of the matches leading up to the fondly-remembered confrontation between Cactus Jack and Terry Funk varies widely depending on the fan that you ask. But to be fair, deathmatches are hardly ever pretty affairs or matches that focus on technical skills and precise execution of maneuvers because they are not meant to be such things. Brawling, blood, violence, crazy high spots and more violence is the norm and what is expected by the fans. If shock value is what they came for, the IWA with this tournament and especially the final is where they planned to give it to them.
WATCH: Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) promises much pain to Shouji Nakamaki!
On a side note, the tournament was the raison d’être of this Kawasaki Stadium event, but there were also other matches on the card between interludes. We saw NWA champion Dan “The Beast” Severn (who also displayed his UFC #5 championship belt) defend his title against Tarzan Goto, a tag team featuring The Headhunters vs Los Cowboys (El Texano and Silver King), Takashi Otano winning the WWA (Puerto Rico) Light Heavyweight Championship, and lastly, a Lucha-style bout between Iceman and Kamikazee. There was even a ceremony honoring hardcore pioneer Gypsy Joe (Gilberto Melendez), a competitor known for his longevity in the business and very physical in-ring style.
The King of the Deathmatch tournament (winners in blood-red).
- Tiger Jeet Singh vs. Mr. Gannosuke (barbed wire barricade match)
- Leatherface vs. Terry Funk (barbed wire barricade, chain match)
- Cactus Jack vs. Terry Gordy (barbed wire bat, 10,000 thumbtack match)
- Shouji Nakamaki vs. Hiroshi Ono (barbed wire baseball bat, thumbtack match)
- Terry Funk vs. Tiger Jeet Singh (glass, barbed wire barricade match)
- Cactus Jack vs. Nakamaki (barbed wire board, bed of nails)
- Terry Funk vs. Cactus Jack (Tourney Final- no rope, barbed wired board, C4 explosive, exploding ring deathmatch).
After defeating Shoji Nakamaki in a barbed wire board and bed of nails deathmatch, Cactus Jack delivered an exceptional promo, setting up the final against Terry Funk.
While smiling and holding up his fingers, Cactus seemed incredulous to the result and began:
“Was that two? Is that two? How much more do you WANT FROM ME?!”
He continued smiling and points at himself with both hands.
“This is my night, not YOURS! It’s not your night so you get that camera out of my face, but not before I say: The next time Terry Funk, we separate the men…”
Cactus Jack pauses.
“From the bo… no, no we don’t…”
Cactus Jack pauses once more and then explodes onto the camera saying:
“We separate the men from the OLD BASTARDS! So you take a look at a real man Terry Funk and when I’m through with you, we’ll take a look at a real DEAD MAN! Bang bang!”
WATCH: An incredibly insane Cactus Jack promo prior to The King of the Deathmatch finals where he even calls out FMW’s Atsushi Onita!
Despite his outwardly fearless promo leading up to the much-anticipated confrontation with Terry Funk, Cactus had his reservations with the C4 explosives that were fitted around the ring ever since the morning of the event when they were given a demonstration. The C4 was rigged to the four barbed wire boards and would explode on impact. When the match hit the ten-minute mark, a loud concussion-like cannon would go off on all four sides of the ring. Foley had been okay with everything except the explosives, and Terry Funk, in his own way, made it worse!
As re-told in his book Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, “It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard in my life. Scariest too. I was the first to speak up. ‘No Way,’ I gasped, ‘that thing will kill us.'”
Foley continued, “Terry actually thought that there needed to be two more explosives in the middle and ‘then it will be great.'”
Cactus felt uneasy with the explosives in the middle of the ring. The fear was that there would be no place for them to land when the explosives went off. All this risk for $300 ($100 per match)!
After Dan Severn retained his NWA title by defeating Tarzan Goto, it was time for the finals of the tournament.
Bang! Bang! The King of the Deathmatch Final and Aftermath
Terry Funk is known as “a giver” and during the match he made Cactus look very good, but they both worked very well together and made the final truly memorable. The veteran Funk took some tremendous bumps and was thrown on one of the exploding boards early in the match. Cactus had lacerated himself with the barbed wire and later got dropped onto the middle explosives suggested by Funk earlier. The explosives had gone off directly underneath Cactus’ arm and a portion of that explosion caught Funk underneath his right tricep. This last sequence of events happened after the timed C4 explosives at the four corners of the ring had barely gone off like “roman candles,” nothing compared to the demonstration they had seen earlier that day.
Some fans believe that what makes this deathmatch special is the fact that Funk and Cactus had to improvise after the underwhelming C4 explosion in order to salvage the match. Also, it has the feel of two rivals with a backstory which motivates each to give their all. It doesn’t seem to be just one spot after the other without rhyme or reason.
Funk even got struck viciously with a ladder to the head which Foley recounts in his book, “I charged him and the impact to his head was so severe that I felt somewhat guilty. I got over it.”
Cactus then climbed the same ladder and crashed down on a fallen Terry Funk with an elbow from about six feet in the air. When Cactus went up the ladder again, Funk fell on it which caused Cactus to lose his balance and plummet onto the barbed wire that had replaced the ropes. He opened up a gash on his right hand and another huge one that almost cost him his good ear. A confused crowd then saw Cactus pin Terry Funk to become the King of the Deathmatch. Funk was not moving and was rushed out by the young boys before Cactus could even shake his hand. He was also awarded a trophy, but once he raised it high into the air and placed it on the mat, he never saw it again.
Recommended: Mick Foley: How He Lost an Ear During a Match
WATCH: King of the Deathmatch final between Cactus Jack and Terry Funk with Commentary by Mick Foley
In the ten years prior to the Deathmatch tournament at Kawasaki Dream, Terry Funk had lost barely a handful of matches in Japan, so him allowing Cactus Jack the honor of becoming the “King of the Deathmatch” in front of the Japanese fans that practically revered Funk, was a gift not bestowed upon anyone. He must have seen something in Foley and decided to pass the baton that night. Before Funk was placed in an ambulance, Mick Foley would never forget the sight of the Japanese fans yelling out Terry’s name as they reached out and tried to touch him.
Cactus’ performance was so good that IWA president Tatsukuni Asano- who was the man with the money behind the promotion- decided to hand him a deserved bonus. As told in his book, Cactus found him in the empty concession stand area and engaged him. “He was beaming, and rightfully so- this had been a huge success for his little promotion. I was covered in head to toe and had literally risked my life for his company. I thought he would surely recognize this. ‘Asano-san’ I said, adding the san to his name as a sign of respect. ‘Big house today. Maybe sukoshi (small) bonus?'”
Foley continued, “Asano smiled his $500 million smile at me as he put a 100 yen coin (approximately one U.S. Dollar) into the soda machine. ‘Cock-toos,’ he began, his hand now reaching for the frosty beverage, ‘ha ha, here bonus.'”
Mick Foley keeps it unopened in a place of honor in his home: his bathroom closet. He looks at it occasionally as a reminder of the past. A reminder of the longest day of his life and the day he solidified his legendary status amongst the Japanese fans.
28,757 people attended Kawasaki Dream and what is now known as “King of The Deathmatch” tournament. Foley claims it was closer to 30,000. In his book Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, the show is put in a good light, and it’s considered a success by some, but a failure by others when compared to the huge crowds FMW was doing while Onita was the owner.
Shortly after the event, IWA started to hemorrhage money and would never come close to this event in terms of revenue or gate. They closed several times only to be revived but as a very small promotion each time. FMW without Onita and its dwindling crowds had defeated IWA without even trying. They later went through various changes, several Atsushi Onita retirements, comebacks, and began to transition into presenting more of a sports-entertainment based product. They remained in operation until 2002.
On his flight back, a woman passenger preferred to unofficially downgrade her first-class seat and sit in coach rather than be next to Cactus Jack.
“I had prominent stitches in my eyebrow and head. My right cheek was a deeply swollen purple, and I had my left ear bandaged with gauze. To make matters worse, because of the stitches, I couldn’t shower, and my hair was particularly matted with dry blood. The dried blood was flaking and falling in small chips onto my shoulder. And to top it all off, my right arm, which I finally deduced had been burned by the explosion, was now turning brown.”
When arriving home, his wife Colette wondered, “What’s burning?” and so her husband (after several failed attempts at hiding his burnt arm) had to admit that it was his arm causing the stench in the house.
A Thank You and a Curtain Call
Mick Foley wrote in his book that the day of the Kawasaki Dream and “King of the Deathmatch” tournament had been “The longest day of my life.” We the fans salute you Mick Foley and Terry Funk for putting your bodies and lives on the line so that we can sit back and yell “Uhwahh” like the Japanese fans did, and get a thrill out of your work. We count our blessings because we do not have to get burned, ripped by barbed wire or electrified in order to make a living.
In the late summer of ’95, Mick Foley pronounced the now legendary promo that has become known as “Cane Dewey.” Three years after becoming the “King Of The Deathmatch,” Mick Foley as Mankind would be thrown off the cage from his Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker onto the Spanish announcers’ table during the 1998 King of the Ring pay-per-view. This led to commentator Jim Ross uttering the now-famous phrase, “Good God almighty! Good God almighty! That killed him! As God as my witness, he is broken in half!”
Mick Foley has long since proven that he is much more versatile of a performer than just a “glorified stuntman” as Ric Flair is said to have once called him. But whether he likes it or not, those stunts (more like spots) and his resilience to pain is arguably what got fans to take notice and became the inspiration of many to give wrestling a try.
At the time this article is being published, Terry Funk at 75 years-old says that he has finally retired from the squared circle. He has nothing else to prove in wrestling, but we all know that “The Funker” is always ready to go when called upon. Remember what he once said, “My daddy was a pistol, I’m a son of a gun, I’m meaner than a rattlesnake, tougher than shoe leather, more dangerous than a hollow-eyed scorpion and middle-aged and crazy… but crazy like a fox!”
While looking at photos in his studio inside his ranch in Amarillo, Texas he pointed to one with Mick Foley by saying, “That’s the egg-sucking dog, that’s the fat a**hole… I loved him, I really did like him. I had some phenomenal matches with that boy, I’ll tell you that, and drew tremendous amounts of money all over the United States… everywhere we went together, we were a success.”
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All quotes are from Mick Foley’s first book Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks and can be purchased here. Background on the Japanese wrestling scene at the time is based on research by Bret at BAHUFMW, and you can find his page here and Twitter account here.
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