IWA Japan: Kawasaki Dream 1995 – King of the Deathmatch

King of the Deathmatch DVD coverIn the summer of 1995 professional wrestling was in the midst of a transition. The then WWF was trying to recover from Hulkamania with its so-called ‘New Generation’ being led by Kevin Nash’s Diesel feuding with arguably their worst King of the Ring winner Mabel. Meanwhile in WCW Hulkamania was doing its best to run wild but was, at best, faltering a year before the major impact of the nWo began to change American wrestling forever.

While North America was in the doldrums, in Japan business was booming, with the stalwarts like New Japan and All Japan leading the pack and new promotions such as FMW, Michinoku Pro and the then brand new IWA Japan doing a very reasonable trade as well.

With that in mind IWA Japan staged their biggest show to date, Kawasaki Dream, at Kawasaki Baseball Stadium in August 1995 and, inspired by OSW Review’s look at the show, I thought I’d give my slightly shoddy DVD of it another watch as well.

The DVD kicks off with some terrible heavy metal overlaid on the introduction of the show’s competitors (this kind of soundtrack is a strong negative against this version of the show). The main bulk of the card is made up of the titular tournament and entrances of note come from Leatherface (waving his chainsaw through a terrified looking crowd), Terry Funk in cowboy mode complete with horse and Cactus Jack dragging, appropriately given his role here, a barbed wire wrapped crucifix.

Aside from the tournament there are a few other matches highlighted by an NWA World Title match pitting champion Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn against Tarzan Goto, so we see Severn arrive in a not-quite-limousine and show off his gold (also including the UFC #5 championship strap).

Cactus Jack with barbed wire crossCactus Jack with barbed wire cross
Cactus Jack with barbed wire cross

The matches start off with the quarterfinals of the tournament and Tiger Jeet Singh (a Japanese gaijin veteran in the vein of The Sheik and more recently Sabu) against Mr. Gannosuke. Within seconds the match heads out of the ring for an extended crowd brawl, despite the fact this is supposed to be a chain match, and very soon Gannosuke is bleeding in particularly nasty looking fashion.

After about five minutes they do make it back into the ring, not that any actual wrestling happens, and the chain eventually comes into play in fairly typical choke and fist fashion. Throughout its clear Singh either can’t, or isn’t willing, to sell or bump in any real fashion and he eventually picks up the win with his signature claw hold forcing Gannosuke onto a bed of barbed wire for the pin to end a lifeless brawl.

Before the next match we get an excellent old-school Terry Funk promo; serious, considered and respectful before it all kicks off, that shows just why Funk is the legend he is. This is followed by a promo from ‘Leatherface’ (a low-level American veteran in a bad mask) that is in no way suitable to his character and really spoils his potential mystique before he even leaves the dressing room.

The match itself is another Chain and Barbed Wire Board match and is a much more structured affair. Impressively Leatherface hits an early moonsault before the hardcore stuff begins with chainsaw blows to the head (from the body of the device rather than the clearly false blade) before they head outside the ring for a bit of walk and brawl.

The high spot of this match comes as the competitors climb a fence dividing the stadium seating from the arena floor but it’s largely anticlimactic and is followed by a very safe and disappointing table spot from Leatherface before a bloodied Funk connects with a chained fist for the win and we get the more usual for the time ‘middle aged and crazy’ Terry Funk promo as he heads back to the locker room.

Terry Funk and Leatherface
Terry Funk and Leatherface

From there we cut straight to Cactus Jack and immediately Foley’s most extreme alter-ego shows he’s a cut above the other performers on the show (with the exception of Funk). The speech is exactly what a promo should be and makes this whole show sound like the biggest event ever while really getting his slightly unhinged character across. Then Terry ‘Bam Bam’ Gordy rambles something far less impressive that really demonstrates a man out of time and out-of-place following the dissolution of the Freebirds.

The match itself, a Barbed Wire Baseball Bat Thumbtack match, starts with the wrestlers running to the ring to race for the bat and after a few reasonably safe shots both men are brawling on the floor (you’ll notice the theme here I’m sure).

Cactus and Gordy go back and forth out and in the ring with some decent teases of thumbtack spots that do a decent job of building the psychology and mystique of the weapon before Cactus takes a nasty slam from the ropes to the arena floor that is classic Foley of giving far more than he ever needs to.

As the match goes on it becomes obvious Gordy isn’t going to be taking any big hits or falls so Cactus bumps around for him, starting a trend for the whole show, and eventually ends up taking a nasty looking curb stomp face first into the thumbtacks. This is followed by a pair of poorly performed powerbombs that Cactus was lucky to walk away from as Gordy clearly can’t muster the strength to lift the 270 pounder, before Jack hits a DDT into the thumbtacks on Gordy (Jack takes all the impact on his back) for the win.

Cactus Jack and Terry Gordy
Cactus Jack and Terry Gordy

The last quarter-final pits Shoji Nakamaki against Hiroshi Ono in another bat and thumbtack match. Starting off with some back and forth barbed wire bat shots to their well padded chests.

The duo then exchange some seriously stiff looking punches before its back to the walk and brawl which takes them from ring to ring (three are set up around the stadium). While outside both men get busted open in particularly nasty looking fashion before, back in the ring, we get a real wrestling hold, an STF, much to the surprise of everyone.

That out the way the match concludes with a series of thumbtack spots including a brutal looking headfirst back suplex into the tacks before a full nelson facebuster into the tacks gives Nakamaki the win.

In all the first round was hugely underwhelming with little in the way of story or psychology and very few genuinely impressive spots and if it hadn’t been for Cactus and Funk would have been all but unwatchable.

That done we get a break from the tournament with first a lightweight title match that is very loose and features a few good suplexes but sloppy high-flying, culminating in Takashi Otano getting the win over Kid Ichihara to win the WWA Light Heavyweight Championship.

Kamikaze and Iceman
Kamikaze and Iceman

This is followed by a sloppy not-quite-lucha match from a masked duo that has little story or psychology and not even any real high spots to make up for it, before it ends with a series of botched roll-ups giving Iceman the win over Kamikazee (nope, me neither…).

With Cactus Jack in one match and Terry Funk in the other there seemed to be a bit more promise to the semifinal matches of the tournament but, as the first starts out with Tiger Jeet Singh attacking the referee with the handle of his sword it’s not a good sign.

From there Funk interferes and another crowd brawl ensues that soon seems to step over into genuine brutality as Singh jabs and gouges at Funk’s arm with a broken metal chair leg. This all looks hugely unprofessional and, judging by the rest of the night, does seem to do Funk some real damage which is never a good thing to see.

The gimmick for this match is a Barbed Wire Board and Glass match and its Funk who ends up going back first into the bed of glass which, thankfully, the camera spares us a close up of. Its clear throughout that once again Singh is either unable or unwilling to sell or bump, even for Funk, and the end comes with a fairly run-of-the-mill interference spot from Cactus Jack that allows Funk to pin Singh.

Despite Funk’s excellent selling and genuine professionalism in the face of Singh’s ‘work’, this is another sloppy mess of a match.

Cactus Jack delivers his flying elbow
Cactus Jack delivers his flying elbow

For the second semifinal it’s a Barbed Wire Board and Spike Nail Match between Cactus and Nakamaki that follows the now standard routine of brief in-ring section before bailing to the floor for a scrap.

Unlike the other semifinal, this is a very give and take match with both men feeling the barbed wire before the nail board comes into play and both men feel that too. This looks particularly nasty, though seemingly more due to selling than actual injury.

One of the first proper big ‘spots’ of the night comes as Cactus hits his diving elbow from apron on Nakamaki who is under the nail board before some more back and forth barbed wire spots in the ring culminating in Cactus’s trademark double arm DDT on the wire for the win.

This is the best match so far by a country mile and potentially match of the night that once again shows Foley’s innate ability at telling stories and bringing psychology into even the most full-on brawling hardcore matches and is followed by yet another exceptional Cactus promo.

For another interlude in the tournament we are ‘treated’ to a pair of championship matches.

First up The Headhunters (a pair of enormous twins) take on Los Cowboys for the IWA tag straps in a match that, save for one big plancha spot from one of the Headhunters, is near pointless as the twins do very little while the Cowboys sell and bump. It ends with a Headhunters win but the whole thing is messy and unconvincing and at 17 minutes vastly overlong.

NWA and UFC Champion, Dan Severn
NWA and UFC Champion, Dan Severn

Following one of the worst wrestling promos I’ve ever seen, courtesy of NWA champion Dan Severn, and a good look at the horrifically scarred forehead of his challenger Tarzan Goto, the world championship match gets underway. It actually starts off like a conventional, if stiff, wrestling match which shows promise, but as ever it’s not long before Goto heads outside followed by Severn and what looks like a genuine fight ensues and somewhere along the line Goto tries to use a bottle as a weapon!

The fight soon gets sloppy and overlong before both men are back in the ring and Severn hits a nice and legit looking suplex, but then its back outside and chairs flying around with no real purpose.

Back in the ring again it’s a sloppy sequence that seems as if its meant to look like a shoot, but clearly isn’t, before a lengthy sleeper/choke spot gives Severn the win to retain followed by another terrible promo almost word-for-word repeating his earlier effort

This looks as if it could have been a decent match had it been more structured and booked with more consideration, but ultimately it ends up being a mess like nearly every other match on the show.

From there we head straight into the now legendary tournament final of Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk in an over gimmicked Barbed Wire Rope, Exploding Barbed Wire Boards & Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death Match.

Cactus Jack and Terry Funk
Cactus Jack and Terry Funk

The duo excellently play the psychology of the barbed wire ropes, teasing interaction with it before both taste it in different ways. Following this Funk is the first to taste the pyro board which looks spectacular and must have been astonishing to see in person.

As the match goes on the duo head outside, but unlike the other matches every moment feels built to (if at times slightly rushed) and there’s a real story of rivals really fighting for something along with the sense of a torch being passed from one generation to the other.

Despite the brutal nature of the match they still find time for Funk to use his signature spinning toe hold before an unnecessary run in from Singh hasten things toward their conclusion, but not before a hugely anticlimactic time bomb moment that gets a lot of heat from the otherwise surprisingly polite crowd.

Cactus elbow to Funk
Cactus elbow to Funk

Cactus and Funk win them back slightly with back suplex into the exploding barbed wire that seems to be the source of a severe cut to Cactus as well as major burns to his arm as recorded in later photographs. The match concludes with what feels like a slightly botched ladder spot that sees Cactus collapse into the barbed wire ropes before getting the pin on Funk.

In the end though this is, for the most part, the best match on the show and a fitting end to the tournament. That said if it weren’t for where this launched the career of Mick Foley the whole event would have been long forgotten as, despite he and Funk’s best efforts it really doesn’t deliver in any meaningful way and left me wondering if it was really worth it for any of the performers many of whom seemed to be legitimately injured in one way or another for very little gain – especially Cactus Jack who earned his win by taking the nastiest looking moves of the night and getting the worst looking injuries.

Cactus Jack and Terry Funk
Cactus Jack and Terry Funk

The show ends with another excellent promo from Cactus – quite how Foley delivers this given the state he’s in is beyond me – while Terry Funk is shown climbing into an ambulance making for a great ending that keeps the storyline strong, showing respect between the two finalists but maintaining their respective positions of face and heel and selling the events legendary brutality.

Really though, unless you are a completest there is little to recommend here that you couldn’t see in a 10 minute highlight package of which I’m sure many exist floating around YouTube.

Anyway here’s the OSW review of the show which I’m sure is more entertaining than mine…

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