March 7, 2013 by @JSimpsonWriter
FMW (Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling).
This bonkers promotion became world known for its extreme and brutal matches. Most of its biggest matches used electrified cages, exploding rings, fire and barbwire ropes. You would think this company was ideal for very limited wrestlers but it had some very talented performers. Some of these men would gain worldwide fame for their involvement in these crazy bouts, guys like Masato Tanaka and Mike Awesome. Out of all the ‘name’ wrestlers in FMW only one could rightfully claim to be its top star and that was its promoter Atsushi Onita. A failed junior heavyweight wrestler for All Japan and suffering injuries that hindered what he could do in the ring, Onita was influence by the wild brawls he had witnessed in Memphis and Puerto Rico and wisely decided that ‘style’ could work in Japan. It would also hide his weaknesses while making him look a mega star. And, hey, it worked! Initially FMW shows were set up for special wrestler vs. Mixed martial artist fights following Onitas publicised struggles with UWF and his attempts in a match with Masashi Aoyagi (he was disqualified for using wrestling holds). Weeks after this bout, in July 1989, Onita announced the birth of FMW and its first shows would be in October of that same year. Both would be headlined by Onita vs. Aoyagi. In the hype for the matches Aoyagi viciously attacked Onita, leaving him in a bloody heap. This dramatic scene, a battered and bloody Onita in peril, would become a common occurrence in the history of FMW.
It was a battered and bloody Onita who would ‘lose’ the rematch at the first ever FMW show. His friend and wrestler Tarzan Goto accompanied him to the ring and decided that Onita ‘had had enough’ so threw in the towel for him. Of course, Onita went mental and attacked Aoyagi as wrestlers and ‘shoot fighters’ surrounding the ring got in and battered each other senseless. Four days later, at the second show, Onita finally defeated Aoyagi. With both shows being sell outs and well received by fans Atsushi would surely continue to run FMW shows, wouldn’t he? The next took place in December ’89 and this time the ‘hook’ was that the main event would be a Barbwire Rope Death Match. As well as usual ring ropes the squared circle also had strands of barbwire running alongside the ropes. This was another ‘wrestling vs mixed martial arts’ bout as it was Onita & Goto against Mitsuhiro Matsunaga & Jerry Blayman aka WCW’s Jerry Flynn. It seemed FMW wasted no time in establishing what it would become known for; using barbwire. Blayman and Mitsuhiro were at a distinct advantage as they were wearing their karate gear which covered most of their bodies. Onita and Goto in flimsy wrestling tights were torn to shreds. Having said that, it was usually them going into the wire! At one point in the match you can see Atsushi pull a spike of barbwire out of his thumb and grimace. The wrestlers win and as the crowd went nuts you could tell FMW were on to something.
After a few more shows Onita decided to up the ante for his growing promotion. Based on word of mouth and the success of brutal matches he staged a bout in August 1990 that got a lot of people talking about this outfit FMW. Onita and Goto, usually allies, would clash in a Barbwire Exploding Land Mine Death Match. In this one the ropes were gone and the barbwire was ‘rigged to explosives’ so if anyone touched them they would be ‘shocked’ as well as blasted with some impressive fireworks. Compared to some later bouts these two had in similar settings it seems tame. Onita won, of course, when Goto failed to get up before a 10 count.
Over the next few years FMW would gain worldwide fame for these sorts of contests. The madness was truly beginning and would help make stars of those involved. The company’s success meant spending more money and when the ‘bubble burst’ they had outgoings bigger than what little they had coming in. This would bring about FMW’s end in a tragic way. But that is for another time so for now enjoy the Puro Madness that was early FMW. I certainly did.
James Simpson (@KnowYourPuro)