On his flight home, a woman passenger preferred to downgrade her first-class seat and sit in coach rather than be next to a battered Mick Foley.
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.
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 the WWF’s flagship show Monday Night Raw. The Monday Night Wars were about to get heated stateside, as the “big two” battled for dominance, but on the other side of the world, wrestling was also going through significant changes.
In Japan, AJPW and NJPW were still emblematic of what Japan’s wrestling (Puroresu) was all about. Both promotions were full of tradition, pageantry, and the unforgiving hard-hitting strong-style that characterized its performers. But the previous years had been an eye-opener, for there was a feisty promotion called FMW that refused to go away quietly and was indeed rocking the boat. In the process, it had inadvertently helped spawn several deathmatch promotions vying for the spotlight as well. Puroresu would never be the same again.
FMW Post-Atsushi Onita
After former FMW owner a deathmatch superstar Atsushi Onita’s temporary retirement from wrestling and the selling of the company to Shoichi Arai, FMW struggled drawing fans to their events mostly because previously, the shows were primarily focused around Onita. There was no established star for several months under the new administration that people wanted to pay money to see.
Did you know? When in Japan wrestling for FMW, Sabu and The Gladiator (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. The masked wrestler with a captivating personality eventually helped 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, resilient 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 and this was their moment to strike and strike hard.
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 felt 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. They’d soon make it a reality.
On August 20th, 1995, Kawasaki Stadium would host the first-ever eight-man single-elimination deathmatch tournament that would determine what is 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 are the norm and expected by the fans. If shock value is what the entertainment-starved Japanese fans came for, the IWA with this tournament planned to deliver it to them in bucketfuls.
Watch Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) Promise 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 notable matches on the card between interludes. We saw NWA champion Dan "The Beast" Severn (who also displayed his UFC #5 championship belt) successfully defend his title against Jumbo Tsuruta student, the fierce Tarzan Goto. A tag team featuring The corpulant and homicidal Headhunters who were twin brothers vs. Los Cowboys (El Texano and Silver King), Takashi Okano (The Winger) winning the WWA (Puerto Rico) International Light Heavyweight Championship, against “Flying Kid” Ichihara and lastly, a Lucha-style bout between Iceman and Kamikazee. There was even a ceremony honoring hardcore pioneer Gypsy Joe (Gilberto Meléndez). A hardened puerto rican competitor renowned for his very physical in-ring style and who honed his craft, and bled the reddest of blood in many countries.
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 sadistic barbed wire board and bed of nails deathmatch, Cactus Jack delivered an unforgettable promo, setting up the awaited final against the tough, ornery Texan, 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 Mick Foley Deliver an Incredibly Insane Cactus Jack Promo, Calling 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 very 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)!
Once Dan Severn retained his NWA title, it was time for the tournament’s finals. The main bloody course featuring Cactus and Funk was soon to be served and savored. Foley’s longest day of his life would come to a spectacular finish.
Bang! Bang! The Aftermath
Terry Funk is known as "a giver." During the match, he made Cactus look like a million bucks, and they worked well together to make a truly memorable final. The crafty, veteran Funk took some hideous bumps and was thrown on one of the exploding boards early in the match. Cactus lacerated himself with the barbed wire and later got dropped onto the middle explosives suggested by Funk earlier. The explosives detonated directly underneath Cactus’ arm, and a portion of that explosion painfully caught Funk underneath his right tricep. This last sequence of events happened after the timed C4 explosives at the four corners of the ring pathetically went 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 that Funk and Cactus had to improvise after the underwhelming C4 explosion 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. A match to be studied by current practitioners of deathmatches.
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 a stiff elbow from about six feet in the air. When Cactus climbed the ladder again, Funk fell on it, which caused Cactus to lose his balance and plummet onto the sharp, twisted barbed wire that replaced the ropes. He opened up a gnarly gash on his right hand and another scary, unsightly one that almost cost him his good ear. A confused crowd then saw Cactus pin Terry Funk to become the King of the Deathmatch. It was finally over. 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 says that 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 before the Deathmatch tournament at Kawasaki Dream, Terry Funk had lost only 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 desperately to touch their American hardcore idol.
Cactus’ performance was so lauded that IWA president Tatsukuni Asano, 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 blood from 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.’" Foley would have to settle for $300 and a soda.
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 the Kawasaki Dream "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 compared to the huge crowds FMW was doing while Onita was the owner.
Shortly after the event, IWA started to hemorrhage money and never came 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 a more palatable sports entertainment based product. They remained in operation until 2002. Onita came out of retirement in 2018 and in 2021 revived FMW once again, calling it FMW-E (Explosion) which plans to feature exploding barbed wire deathmatches. His first event is set for July 4th and called Independence Day.
On his flight back, a woman passenger preferred to unofficially downgrade her first-class seat and sit in coach rather than be next to a battered Mick Foley.
"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, I couldn’t shower because of the stitches, 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 surely took inventory of his various ailments and soon wondered, "What’s burning?" And so her husband (after several failed attempts at hiding his horribly burnt arm) had to admit that it was his charred and blackened extremity causing the stench in the house.
A Thank You and a Curtain Call
In his book, Mick Foley wrote 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 scorched, ripped apart by barbed wire, or electrified to a crisp in order to make a living.
In the late summer of ’95, Mick Foley gave 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 high pain threshold, is arguably what got fans to take notice and became the inspiration of many to give wrestling a try.
Terry Funk 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 asshole… 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 is based on Bret’s research at BAHUFMW, and you can find his page here and Twitter account here.
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