Now, as I may have mentioned elsewhere on this site, I love deathmatch wrestling. I make no bones about it. There is something that just appeals to me, and appalls me in equal measure, when I watch these men and women put themselves through agony – as well as tables, barbed wire, and sheets of glass – for my entertainment. It’s not a sick kind of thrill, you understand, but more of a huge appreciation that these wrestlers would be willing to put everything on the line just to get me to pop for them. And for that, I will be eternally grateful. This does beg the question, however, who are the best of the best? Who are the ones who will go down in the annals of hardcore and deathmatch wrestling as true icons? Who truly are the 10 Best Mainstream Old School Hardcore/Deathmatch Icons Of All Time?
Luckily for you, I’m here to answer that question and, considering that these kinds of matches are a huger part of my weekly wrestling diet, I think that I’ve got the knowledge needed to take on this venture. But before we go any further, there’s a rule that needs to be laid down for the no-rules athletes you’re about to see in this Hall of Fame. To be considered an Icon and worthy of a place on this list, the wrestler in question must be retired. So, no Sami Callihan, no Jon Moxley, no Nick F’ing Gage, will be seen in this article as they’re all still active. Also, it gives me an excuse to do a sister piece to this about the best current hardcore/deathmatch wrestlers in the not-too-distant future.
Got it? Good. Let’s get to it, shall we?
10: Spike Dudley
Well, if I’m gonna start a list like this, I might as well go out of my way to piss a few of you off. The thing is, anyone who doesn’t rate Spike Dudley as one of the best hardcore/deathmatch icons of all time, really has sod all idea about hardcore/deathmatch wrestling. Here was a man, who looked as if he could be knocked over by a stiff gust of wind, being thrown off balcony’s, slammed through flamming tables, and battered from pillar to post by men who could’ve, quite literally, swallowed him whole if they so chose, and yet he always came back for more.
He might’ve been seen as a punching bag by those who have no idea about wrestling, but for those in the know, Spike Dudley was the perfect way to get invested in a story. Even if he had to be spill more claret than your drunk aunt at your sister’s wedding to do so.
9: Ryuji Yamakawa
I would like to point out before we go any further, that the reason that there is only one Japanese wrestler on this list is that I have an entire series planned on the art of Japanese Deathmatch Wrestling, but I couldn’t do a list like this and not include Ryuki Yamakawa. Just look at that picture for a sec. What you see is Ryuji Yamakawa about to climb into a ring that’s on f*cking fire, with a light tube in his hand, while his opponent waits for him so he can smash his tube of death across his head. Now, you tell me that Ryuji Yamakawa doesn’t deserve to be on here. When you call yourself Mr. Big Japan while working for Big Japan Pro Wrestling, a company that isn’t what you’d call shy when it comes to putting on the kind of matches you shouldn’t show to anyone under the age of 21, then you better live up to your hype. And Ryuji Yamakawa did that, and more.
He was the Deathmatch Heavyweight Champion twice and held the tag belts seven times and if that isn’t enough to convince you, then when you’ve finished reading this article get on over to YouTube and check out his war with Tomoaki Honma that includes nails, spike, barbed wire, and light tubes strapped to boards. And believe me, if they could’ve found a way to add a kitchen sink to a piece of wood, then they would’ve.
8: The Sheik
Not to be confused with the Iron Sheik – who is a whole different kind of bat-s*it crazy – The Sheik was one of the true innovators of violence. Born Edward George Farhat on June 7th, 1926, Baby Ed would go on to become one of the most hated and vicious wrestlers in the business. Back when wrasslin’ was still ‘real to me, dammit’, The Sheik was feared and loathed in equal measures by those who packed the auditoriums where he plied his trade.
This was down to the fact that The Sheik was seen as unpredictable and not afraid to use a pencil – yes you read that right, that isn’t a typo, a fricking pencil – to carve his opponent up like a Thanksgiving turkey. In a career that spanned nearly 50 years, nobody was safe from him. Bruno Sammartino, Harley Race, Fred Blassie, The Sheik didn’t care who you were. If you bled you were getting the lead.
He had a career spanning feud with Bobo Brazil, formed a tag team with Abdullah the Butcher just to see which of the two was more violent, trained Sabu, and eventually retired in Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling at the age of 72. He may have passed away in 2003, but his influence on hardcore/deathmatch wrestling will never be forgotten.
This may come back to bite me in the ass, but unless Christopher Joseph Park decides that he’s tired of working for the WWE, and misses the days of having his brains bashed in with a baseball bat, I think it’s safe to say that Abyss is retired.
A TNA original, Abyss was a monster of a man who spent a huge amount of his time inside the ring having his body abused by all kinds of weapons, thumbtacks, and headshots. He was so dedicated to the hardcore way of life that during his feud with Monty Brown it was decided that the only way they could settle their differences was with a Monster’s Ball Match, wherein the two proceeded to pummel each other with anything they could lay their hands on. Honestly, even today – nearly 20 years later – the amount of punishment Brown and Abyss inflict on each other is wince-inducing.
His entire career would follow this pattern, with The Monster Abyss participating in some of the most extreme wars that wrestling has ever seen, and even when Hogan and Bischoff did everything they could to run the company into the ground, you’d tune in each week to see who Abyss was going to put through a table or set on fire next.
So enjoy your time with the WWE, Christopher Joseph Park, you’ve done more than enough to earn it.
6: Axl Rotten
If a heroin overdose hadn’t snuffed out his life in 2016, I do not doubt that Axl Rotten would still be spilling gallons of blood in rings across the land. Instead, we have another fallen soldier in the world of pro-wrestling, which has a mortality rate that is far too high for my – or anyone’s – liking. But let’s not focus on his tragic end and instead let us look at the insanity that Axl Rotten brought to the sport.
An ECW alumni, Rotten gave his heart and soul to help push that company forward, and, alongside his brother Ian, put on some of the most savage exhibitions of the grappling arts to ever graced the squared circle. In fact, if you have the stomach for it and want to see just what both the Rotten Boys were willing to do, then I suggest you head on over to YouTube and check out their duo of Taipei Deathmatches.
It isn’t what you could really call wrestling, as both men dip their glue-covered hands in glass before using these weapons to cut chunks out of each other, but it is a testament to what both went through to entertain. And for that reason alone, the late Axl Rotten deserves his place on this list.
5: Abdullah The Butcher
I was very hesitant to put Abdullah The Butcher onto this list. This is down to my belief that even though he might not have known about it beforehand, he was at least complicit in the murder of Bruiser Brody. Yet, as nothing has been ever proved, I couldn’t do an article like this and not include him. Even if it does leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Abdullah made his name traveling the globe, stabbing people in the head with a fork. It wasn’t all one-sided however and as the grooves in his head attest to, he was more than willing to wear the crimson mask whenever it was needed. Which with him was all the time. He had some legendary feuds, but his best work – as far as I’m concerned – was whenever he went toe to toe with Bruiser Brody.
Both men knew that they drew money, and they also knew that if they bleed like a scene from an abattoir the fans would be clamoring to see even more. This was good business on both men’s part, so they had a seemingly never-ending series of matches that would probably still be going on now if Brody hadn’t been murdered.
Sadly, not everything has gone The Butcher’s way since Brody’s death, including having to pay out $2.3 million to Devon “Hannibal” Nicholson, after Hannibal had contracted Hepatitis C from Abdullah during their 2007 bout.
So, maybe there was some justice for Bruiser Brody after all.
4: New Jack
If Jerome Young was still alive today, he’d be much higher up the list. Probably number one, as he scared the hell out of me, and the last thing I’d want is an irate New Jack hopping on a plane to England to ask me why he was only number four.
All joking aside – as I was joking, kinda – the reputation of New Jack proceeded the man, but as anyone who saw the outpouring of grief on his passing can attest to, it doesn’t seem like the man and the myth fully add up. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt that he was someone you didn’t want to cross – just ask Vic Grimes who he admitted to legitimately trying to murder – but he was also incredibly loyal to his friends, as evident in the heartbreaking tribute paid to him on WWE television by Paul Heyman.
Inside the ring, New Jack would show up with enough weapons to start a military coup, and outside of it, he would throw himself off of balconies and structures that would give most mountain climbers nosebleeds. He was unique, he was ultra-violent, he was – as he was so fond of reminding people – gangsta, and we will never see his like again.
3: Bruiser Brody
I wear my love for Bruiser Brody on my sleeve. Soon, that will be quite literally, as my partner is working on a design of Frank Goodish to tattoo on the inside of my right arm. The reason for this is simple. Bruiser Brody was the best wrestler to ever lace up a pair of boots. People will point to the likes of Flair, Hogan, Austin, The Rock, but Brody was the equal of any of these men. His understanding of the business and his refusal to get tied into a big contract proved that he knew his worth better than any of those I’ve just mentioned, as he realized that becoming a small cog in a big machine could very possibly see him become swallowed up.
So Brody did what was best for Brody, and what that entailed was traveling the world, chasing fans through stadiums while wielding a huge metal chain, and being involved in some of the most brutal matches you’re ever likely to see.
I’ve already mentioned his ongoing war with Abdullah The Butcher earlier in this piece, but there was also his bloody battles with Terry and Dory Funk – where he was usually supported by his friend, Stan Hansen – his scrapes with Antonio Inoki that would usually end with a quart of red and a DQ to keep both men strong, and his terrorizing of Lex Luger, inside a steel cage, when Brody just flat out refused to sell for the man.
YouTube is littered with Brody’s work, and his influence on wrestling as a whole – not just the hardcore and deathmatch scenes – can still be felt over 30 years after Invader 1 murdered him and got away with it.
= 1: Mick Foley and Terry Funk
I tried to separate Mick Foley and Terry Funk into the number two and number one positions, but I just can’t. It’s impossible. This is because if it wasn’t for both Foley and Funk and the No Rope, Barbed Wire, Explosive Barbed Wire Board, Time Bomb Death Match from the IWA King Of The Death Match Tournament, then there’s a very good chance that this form of wrestling would never have been anything more than niche.
This match was what brought it to mainstream attention. Whether that was down to fans who couldn’t believe what they had heard – and then went scurrying to their local wrestling tape dealer to find a copy – or to certain sections of the wrestling media getting their panties in a twist that this kind of bout was allowed to happen, as it sulled the good name of a sport born out of carnivals, it opened up a whole new world to a Western audience who had no idea it existed.
But this wasn’t the only time Cactus Jack and The Funker would meet on the battlefield, and if the chant “Fight Forever” was invented for any two people, it was Mick and Terry. This was because they seemingly did, across decades and multiple promotions, but it never grew stale or old because they always came up with unique ways of trying to kill each other.
I could watch Foley vs. Funk until the day I die – and thanks to the internet I probably can – and no matter how many times I sit through any of their blood-soaked epics, I’ll never get bored as these two really were the best of the best.