Just like the title says, I love Death Match Wrestling, and I think you should too. I’m also hoping that within this article I can turn a few of you to the dark side and those I can’t make total converts, well, I’m aiming to help you see it in a different light than the one of ‘Garbage Wrestling’ that a lot of fans seem to tarnish it with. Death Match Wrestling is an art form, and I’ll be damned if I’ll stop until the rest of the fandom sees it as such. So, y’know, no pressure then.
But before we get into my reasons for loving a sport that makes most people cringe while turning their heads away, at best, and vomit into a bucket or all over their dog at its worst, let’s start with a little history.
Nobody can actually point to the exact genesis of Death Match Wrestling, but it’s pretty safe to say that it started out as ‘No-Holds-Barred’ encounters during the 1950s. Where it started is also another bone of contention, as it has been claimed that it happened as a reaction to dwindling crowds across the American circuit, so promoters decided to liven proceedings up with the introduction of blood, while others have placed its birth firmly in Puerto Rico as the promotions in that country had started to allow the use of foreign objects inside and outside of the ring. Personally, I believe it was just one of those occasions where groups of different people all hit on the same idea at the same time, but wherever it started, it wasn’t long before ‘No-Holds-Barred’ transformed into Hardcore Wrestling, which then became Death Match Wrestling.
I should clarify, before I go any further, that I consider Hardcore Wrestling to be, Death Match Wrestling in all but name and I’ll summon the ghost of New Jack to drop you like Vic Grimes if you’d care to discuss it further.
Anyway, as the years rolled by, these matches developed further. It wasn’t enough just to watch a ‘Texas Brass Knuckles’ Match; fans started craving more violence and more blood and, unless the encyclopedia of all things wrasslin’, Mr Chris Flackett, says otherwise, it was during the 70s, 80s, and 90s that what we know today as true Hardcore/Death Match wrestling really came into its own. This was in no small part down to the likes of pioneers such as Bruiser Brody, Abdullah The Butcher, Terry Funk, and a certain Mick Foley, putting everything on the line for our entertainment. And what a horrible, gore-obsessed bunch we had become. Yet, where the likes of the WWF/WWE, NWA, and WCW usually shied away from these sort of spectacles, limiting them to rare outings as an utter full stop to an ongoing feud, promotions like W*ING, WWC, BJPW, IWA, and ECW embraced them with such vigor, you could’ve sworn that they were getting paid by the amount of claret that was being spilt on the canvas. Which, I suppose, they were.
These companies understood that we, being the ‘orrible b******s that we were, demanded to see our wrestlers inflict as much damage on each other as was humanly possible, as if we were in the Colosseum in Rome, watching Gladiators cut each other to pieces, or punch tigers in the face. So they went all in, with some of the most outlandish ideas you could possibly imagine, and we drank it up.
So, this is where I come into the story. I didn’t get my first taste of Hardcore/Death Match wrestling until ECW’s PPV, Barely Legal, in 1997. This was down to the fact that I live in England and the internet wasn’t really a thing at the time. Also, if you’ve read any of my articles over at 25YL concerning music or listened to my wonderful podcast, The Old Metal Bar-Steward, over on the Ruminations Radio Network (cheap plug and I don’t f*****g care), you’ll also know that I had other things on my mind—such as copious amounts of heroin, enough booze to drown Keith Richards, and the kind of nervous breakdown that would’ve made Will McAvoy blush.
But a friend of mine at the time…well…I say, friend…let’s call a spade a spade…he was my main dealer…sat me down one afternoon, while I was ‘visiting’, and asked me if I’d ever watched Extreme Championship Wrestling? I looked at him as if he was insane, mentioned that I’d been out of the wrestling loop for a while and what the hell does this have to do with me scoring?
“Just…Just trust me on this, man. This will blow your fucking mind”
He slipped a tape into his VCR (yes, I am that old) and hit play. It was quite entertaining, if not as spectacular as some might have you believe these days due to viewing it through the mists of time and rose-tinted glasses, but it was during the ‘Three Way Dance’ when Sandman brought barbed wire into the wing and Terry Funk took it off him and started beating him with it like a red-headed stepchild, that I started to really pay attention.
What the bejesus was this? What in the blue hell could inspire two grown men to put themselves through this much pain? After all, barbed wire is real, right? Now, I wasn’t so uneducated in the ways of pro-wrestling enough as to believe that this was fake, unlike a friend of mine who once tried to convince me that anyone who bled during a match was using either a blood capsule or tomato ketchup, so I knew that what I was seeing on screen must’ve hurt like a motherf****r. So where was the payoff? I had to know more.
I managed to convince my dealer to give me the contact details of his wrestling tape dealer, a guy we shall call Larry from here on out, and a quick phone call later, myself and Larry arranged a time where I could visit him and become educated in the ways of pain. Now, as I’ve already explained, I was a junkie at this point, so there was no way in HELL he was going to lend me anything to watch for fear of me selling it and there wasn’t a chance I’d ever have the requisite amount of cashola to be able to afford any of his tapes, so the deal was, I’d bring him something he could get twisted on and he’d show me a world I’d never known.
And show me he did.
One of the first things Larry played to me were the wars between Bruiser Brody and Abdullah The Butcher. I have no idea how he got hold of them, I didn’t ask though if I was to hazard a guess, they’d have come over in the same crates that my ‘other friend’ got his never-ending supply of brown, but from the moment I saw that wild-haired, chain wielding maniac stomp to the ring, I knew where my heart belonged.
This was who I was now.
By the time I’d gotten through IWA Japan’s ‘King Of The Death Match’ Tournament, where the final was between Mick Foley and Terry Funk and a metric F**K TON of C4 (which is an actual measurement), I knew that I’d never see professional wrestling in the same way, ever again. Now consider, I was viewing this during the Attitude Era, where everything was suddenly WWF/WWE driven, and, don’t get me wrong, they had some mind-blowing encounters, such as the legendary Undertaker/Mankind;
AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, HE IS BROKEN IN HALF“
Or the TLC matches between The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, and The Dudley Boyz (because everything that ended with an S had to end with a Z…EXTREME!), yet for every single one of these Hardcore Classics, I found myself having to sit through PMS and Meat (because woman PMS, people! THAT’S GOOD S**T!) or Mark Henry getting upset because he almost boffed a Transvestite. No, I wanted my cutting edge to have just that, an actual cutting edge.
These tapes sparked off a lifelong obsession with me that still rings true to this day and I cannot understand how ANYONE cannot like this form of wrestling. I’ve heard it called everything under the sun from ‘Amateur Hour’ to the aforementioned ‘Garbage Wrestling’, and God help you if you ever manage to get Jim Cornette started on the subject, but those opinions are just that. Opinions. And each one of them is fucking wrong.
It’s so simple to just say, “Yeah, well, there’s no talent involved in what they do,” but it’s also idiotic. I dare ANYONE who doubts the talent and the balls on those involved in this genre of wrestling, men and women alike, to get together with a friend and have them german suplex you through a pane of glass. Jim Cornette himself has been thrown…well…dangled…off a scaffold to the floor in an act that, if he’d seen Matthew Justice do, he’d have screamed to the heavens about it “not being true to the sport”. Which is so much horse crap, I can see the flies gathering.
Sure, there are some awful backyard organizations that shouldn’t be allowed to breathe, let alone hire anyone, but when you have the likes of CZW and GCW, to name just two, flying the flag for a sub-culture of wrestling that gets looked down upon like a child locked in an attic, then there has to be something to this that casual fans and ‘smarks’ the world over needs to sit up and pay attention to.
It is a destructive ballet. A brutal dance where you have to have enough faith in the person you’re opposite with in the ring to know they’re not going to cause you serious damage or harm. It is an art form on the level of any Picasso or Dali that you’ll find in a goddamn museum, and it’s so visceral, so alive that it can take your breath away.
It has spawned some of the greatest wrestlers you may never have heard of, such as Miedo Extremo or Toshiyuki Sakuda, and some who should be household names, like Nick F*****g Gage and Sami Callihan, and, unlike the WWE—which is the wrestling equivalent of watered down, commercial diarrhoea sucked through a tramp’s sweaty sex sock—or AEW, which is entertaining enough, but has far too many programs happening for anyone who HAS a goddamn job and a family to keep up with, Death Match wrestling does exactly what it says on the tin. Well, except kill people. Just about.
When was the last time you turned on RAW or Dynamite and found yourself slogging through 3 hours of cliched b*****ks just to get to a good match? Try watching GCW Tournament Of Survival 666 from the past weekend instead and see Effy have light tubes shoved down his top before been slammed onto them. These guys and girls go hard from the outset. Or they go home.
But hey. I can’t tell you what to like or hate. That ain’t my bag. But the next time that you find yourself bitching and moaning about how the WWE’s main event this week was someone stamping on a doll’s face before being ‘haunted’ like a cheap-ass John Carpenter movie, then I’d suggest that maybe you should cast your eyes further afield. I know a few companies that’d love to welcome you in.