It’s regarded around the world as the best deathmatch tournament in the history of professional wrestling. Mick Foley considers it one of the defining moments in his long and storied career. It’s the International Wrestling Association of Japan’s Kawasaki Dream, aka The King of the Deathmatch tournament, held at the Kawasaki Baseball Stadium in August 1995. So is it as good as everyone says it is? This is what this writer wants to find out.
The first two matches of round one are fought under barbed wire chain match rules. First, Tiger Jeet Singh faces Mr. Gannosuke. Singh attacks Gannosuke before the chain can be attached around their wrists, and proceeds to beat the crap out of him around the ring and in the front few rows, turning him into a bloody mess. Eventually, Singh drags Gannosuke back to the ring. Singh goes on to dominate the majority of the match, as Gannosuke submits to Singh’s spike to the neck while lying on a barbed wire board. Singh looked absolutely brutal here, and the match succeeded in putting him over in that way. And before you ask, the chain never did get attached to their wrists.
Terry Funk then faces the maniacal Leatherface, who betrays his gimmick quite badly by giving a pre-match interview, saying how it’s an honour to face Funk. This time the chain gets attached to their wrists before the match begins. This one starts out as a normal style chain match, before the brawling begins as both men take bumps on the barbed wire boards surrounding the ring, and Leatherface actually tries to escape by climbing one of the high partition fences that separates the crowd in one of the stands from the ring. The Funker takes another hit on the old board, before escaping Leatherface’s attempt at a top rope elbow drop through a table, pulling the chain so he comes flying down off the top rope. Unfortunately, the spot almost goes wrong as Leatherface barely reaches the table. Back in the ring, Funk finishes his man off with a few choice punches before getting the pin. A good effort from the old Funker here, although Leatherface was a little disappointing.
The next match, a barbed wire baseball bat thumbtack match, features Cactus Jack against Terry Gordy. This one starts off with the two wrestlers having to race to the ring to see who can get the weapons first - Gordy wins. The best match of the show so far, Cactus takes some hideous looking bumps, from the top rope to the floor, power bombed onto the thumbtacks, and getting his head stomped into the tacks. Gordy looked good, but it was obvious that he was in the final stages of his career. Cactus won this one, pinning Gordy after a DDT onto the thumbtacks to advance to the semi-finals.
The only all-Japanese match, a barbed wire board thumbtack match, sees Shoji Nakamaki against Hiroshi Ono. As with the previous match it begins with a race to the ring. It begins with both wrestlers hitting each other with a barbed wire pipe, which has little effect, before we get a brawl through the crowd, and a return to the ring and a normal style match, in which neither man could gain the advantage or the win. Nakamaki takes two suplexes onto the thumbtacks, before reversing a third suplex attempt, and then power bombing Ono onto the tacks. He does finish him off though with a full-nelson forward slam, sending Ono face first into the tacks. I found myself quite enjoying this one, although compared to the other matches it was really nothing special.
With the first round of the tournament complete, it’s onto other action, which begins with highlights of Takashi Okano facing Flying Kid Ichihara for the WWA Light-Heavyweight title. It’s a fast paced match here fought out in front of a silent audience with plenty of high-flying moves and false finishes aplenty. In the end, Okano came out on top, reversing a hurricanrana attempt into a sunset flip-like move to get the winning pin. Another match that was okay, but not one I’d want to watch time and time again.
Then it’s on to singles action between two masked wrestlers, Iceman and Kamikaze. Again, it’s only highlights, but the action from the first few moments doesn’t fill me with great hope as both wrestlers botch quite a few moves, and Kamikaze seems a little lost at times. Some of the action was okay, but it was clear that this was never going to be a match of the year candidate. I would try to describe the end of the match but that would be quite difficult, as they even managed to mess up the pinning combinations. Let’s just say that Iceman won, and leave it at that.
It’s the tournament semi-finals next, and first Terry Funk faces Tiger Jeet Singh in a barbed wire plate glass death match. Singh causes havoc before the match even begins by running through the crowd waving his sword in the air. He then attacks the referee at ringside with his sword, battering them with the sword’s handle before Funk made the save. Then, as they battled through the crowd, Singh attacked Funk with the sword, repeatedly hitting him in the arm and shoulder, before clobbering him in the head. He then grabs another piece of metal and proceeds to take chunks out of the Funker. The old man makes a brief comeback, until Singh produces a metal spike from his boot and proceeds to take more chunks out of his opponent. It’s then that Cactus Jack appears, and his failed attack sends Singh crashing to the mat, where Funk got the winning pin seconds later. This match was brutal, but the psychology was there, and you couldn’t help but root for the Funker as Singh went to work on him. Good stuff.
The second semi-final sees Cactus Jack against Shoji Nakamaki in a barbed wire board bed of nails death match. This one started off cleanly, until Cactus ran in with a baseball slide on Nakamaki as he lay on the apron, sending him crashing onto the barbed wire board. Cactus then found himself propelled into that board, which would go on to be used several more times, as was the bed of nails. In fact, one particularly brutal move saw Cactus lay one of the beds of nails on Nakamaki as he lay on the floor, then coming off the ring apron with his patented elbow drop. That one had to be seen to be believed. Further use of both the barbed wire boards and beds of nails followed, before Cactus got the victory by taking Nakamaki out with a DDT on the barbed wire board - the same way he defeated Gordy in the first round. As with the previous semi-final, this one was good stuff.
Then it’s on to tag-team action, as the Headhunters face El Texano and Silver King for the IWA World Tag-Team titles. Given the Headhunters’ distinct size advantage, I expected them to make short work of their Mexican challengers, but this wasn’t the case. Texano and King showed some good moves against the bigger guys, but in the end it wasn’t enough against the bigger guys, as they pinned Texano after a great looking move - a double sit-down power bomb off the middle rope. Another enjoyable match.
Mark out time next, as one of my favourite wrestlers and MMA fighters, Dan “The Beast” Severn defends the NWA World title against Tarzan Goto. Goto begins this one with the ultimate show of disrespect - a slap to the champion’s face. Now this was a match, with a great storyline and tons of great drama. Goto’s inability to outwrestle Severn in the early stages of the bout saw him go ballistic, at one point trying to attack the champion with a bottle he’d broken on a ring post. This only served to enrage Severn, and the two men began to battle into the crowd, a battle Severn lost as Goto threw chair after chair on top of him. As Goto returned to the ring, Severn recovered, and threw a ton of chairs back into the ring. A duel of chairs followed, before Goto worked over Severn’s knee after a missed knee drop. Severn then recovered enough to once again outwrestle the challenger, before finishing him off with a sleeper to retain the title. The action didn’t finish there. As Severn tried to revive the fallen Goto, Goto pushed him away, and another brawl ensued, with the two men eventually pulled apart. This was a tremendous match, with the psychology spot on from the first minute to the last.
Main event time, and it’s the tournament final, as Terry Funk faces Cactus Jack in a no rope barbed wire explosive barbed wire board time bomb ladder death match. (Pauses for breath.) Now this was brutal. Cactus and the Funker beat the crap out of each other here, sending each other into the barbed wire, suplexing and body slamming onto exploding barb wire boards, brawling around the ring, and generally putting on a match the likes of which I’ve never seen before. If you thought Foley’s Hell in a Cell matches were brutal, then you obviously haven’t seen this one yet. After an age of brutality, Cactus emerged victorious in rather a strange ending. After Tiger Jeet Singh intervened and attacked Funk, Cactus climbed a ladder in the middle of the ring, preparing to deliver a second elbow drop on Funk, but the man from the Double Cross ranch pushed the ladder over, and Cactus fell on to the barb wire. Funk then collapsed to the mat, and Cactus crawled over to him to make the cover. As the referee counted three, Funk raised his shoulder, and Cactus Jack was declared the winner and the King of the Death Match.
In conclusion - over the past few years I’ve seen several so-called death matches and cage of death matches, most notably from CZW. I wasn’t impressed with any of these, as they seemed little more than stunt-filled brawls, designed to see just how many times mindless idiots fall through pains of glass or hit each other of the heads with fluorescent light tubes. These matches did nothing for me, and it’s because of this I didn’t have high hopes for IWA Japan’s King of the Death Match tournament. I’m glad to admit I was wrong. This tournament was great. Each match had meaning. Every thing the wrestlers did in those matches had meaning, which made for great viewing. The show was let down a little by some of the supporting card, but the NWA title match between Severn and Goto more than made up for that particular disappointment.
So is IWA Japan’s Kawasaki Dream recommended viewing? It is if you’re a loyal fan of Mick Foley and Terry Funk.