Pro wrestling has a very polarizing fan base. While there are vasts thousands who can appreciate multiple promotions and genres of professional wrestling, even the recent rise of All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has shown a discourse and disjointing of fans who seem to think that in order to like one promotion, like WWE or IMPACT Wrestling, that you have to automatically bemoan another for any success. But arguably no genre of wrestling has received such widespread scorn from the mainstream masses as deathmatch wrestling.
For much of pro wrestling’s first 50 or 60 years, shoot or catch style wrestling was the preferred norm, until the slow rise of gimmicks in the 1950s and 1960s began to take hold. But when early pioneers like the original Sheik (Ed Farhat), “Wild” Bill Curry, and “Classie” Freddie Blassie, through 1970s stars like Abdullah the Butcher, Bruiser Brody, and Terry Funk, showed that adding more realistic violence to such heated rivalries only upped the emotional connection with some fans.
In 1989, Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (FMW) began operation in Japan, led by founder and deathmatch pioneer Atsuta Onita, and the world of deathmatch wrestling began to transcend the use of bull ropes, chains, and forks. Now it utilized barbed wire, fluorescent light tubes, and more gratuitous violence to add more extreme stipulations to personal grudges. Deathmatch wrestling brought a new level to hardcore wrestling and Japan consistently rests at the forefront worldwide, with promotions like Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS and Big Japan Wrestling, to name a few.
The rise of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in the United States in 1994, out of the ashes of former NWA territory Eastern Championship Wrestling, created a public admiration for the more provocative risk-taking storytellers, leading to the formation of more violent promotions like IWA Mid South in 1996, Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) in 1998, and Xtreme Pro Wrestling (XPW) and Juggalo Championship Wrestling (JCW) in 1999.
Following WWE and WCW’s more watered down attempts at hardcore wrestling in the late 1990s and 2000s, and the collapse of ECW, hardcore wrestling – and especially deathmatch wrestling – seemed to be relegated back to the backyards and bingo halls in North America. But as the indie boom exploded in the early 2000s, some companies began to re-introduce it to more and wider audiences. And now leading the charge in North America is New Jersey-based Game Changer Wrestling (GCW), who recently held their fourth annual Tournament of Survival, an 8-man deathmatch tournament that featured hardcore icons from the US, Japan and beyond.
Pro Wrestling Cinema Delivers 12-Minute Love Song to Deathmatch Wrestling
Earlier this week, Pro Wrestling Cinema, a new project from sometimes Highspots contributor Dan Schram, released a 12-minute and change mini-doc simply entitled Pro Wrestling Cinema presents: GCW – Tournament of Survival 4 weekend. Initially starting out in handheld camera work of GCW’s Deathmatch Hall of Fame Ceremony the night before Tournament of Survival, the sometimes rough camera work still captures the passion and respect the fans and peers have for the genre. But once it moves to the professional camera work of the tournament itself, it becomes a gorgeous love poem to the rigors of deathmatch wrestling.
The remainder of the video after the under-two-minute look at the Hall of Fame ceremonies is a slow-motion montage of some of the most ferocious moments of the tournament, capturing not only the carnage in the ring and the lengths that these performers are willing to subject themselves to for their art, but captures some moments of true bonding between said competitors. Seeing the execution of moves, most involving either barbed wire or fluorescent lighting tubes intermixed with “traditional” wrestling moves, in a slowed down format shows the care these combatants actually take in the abuse they seemingly dish out without remorse.
The soundtrack that accompanies the slow-motion action is pitch perfect. The song choices may seem odd at first – one would nearly assume that death metal or something equally angry or aggressive would fit the mood better – but as you are drawn to the action on film, in it’s slowed down presentation, the lyrics begin to sink in. Opening with Frank Sinatra’s “My Way of Life”, the lyrics – obviously about a lover of Sinatra’s – take on new meaning, as they wrap around scenes of Nick Gage, G-Raver, Orin Veidt, Isami Kodaka, Alex Colon, Toshiyuki Sakuda, and Jimmy Lloyd putting their bodies through hell for the amusement of fans and peers alike. “Nothing in the world that I do means a thing without you,” Sinatra sings. “I’m just half alive in my struggle to survive without you/You are my way of life, the only way I know, you are my way of life.” Nothing drives this point home than when the song fades out to a scene of Great Sasuke, head trapped in a ladder, taking a headshot from light tubes. During the next song, as The Crystals sing “He’s A Rebel”, hitting the chorus – “He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be any good/He’s a rebel ’cause he never ever does what he should/But just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does/That’s no reason we can’t share a love” – FREEDOMS’ Toshiyuki Sakuda is seen removing a skewer that has impaled his face before flipping the double bird at Alex Colon in one of the most iconic hardcore scenes in recent years (the large Jim Cornette head in the crowd behind him only adds to the scene’s power).
While a video like this is unlikely to win over fans who have already decried the genre, for those who still enjoy brutality in their wrestling, this beautiful video presents a 12-minute love poem to the lengths that deathmatch wrestlers put themselves through for the enjoyment of their fans who hold the torch high around the world.
Watch the full video below (WARNING: Contains GRAPHIC violence)