Smoke floats across an arena in Japan as a slow guitar riff dictates the scene. A battle has taken place, a war has been fought. Pain and destruction the likes of which has never been seen before. The cowboy from the west and the warrior from the east lay, as the dust settles and clears.
Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW) was a…unique wrestling promotion. Deathmatches aplenty. Barbed wire and explosives were the order of the day. Not only were competitors beating the snot out of each other, they were slicing each other open as crimson bathed their aching bodies.
On a particular day, my interest was piqued when I saw a gritty YouTube thumbnail; the title mentioned Terry Funk and I was curious. I wasn’t sure who Atsushi Onita was, but I was about to find out. The rest of the video’s title read that the match was a “No-Rope Barbed Wire Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death Match”. Both the description and the length of the match’s gimmick’s name were almost enough to deter me from watching further, yet I stuck through it.
Upbeat music carried the legendary and iconic Terry Funk to the ring, while X’s cover of The Trogg’s classic “Wild Thing” made the crowd’s hearts sing as Onita walked to the ring, determination in his eyes while the wily veteran stared him down. Awaiting them in the ring is the referee, adorned in protective gear that as if Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles decided to become a beekeeper.
I know not what the story is, but I saw it as a young Onita seeking to face his idol, who was willing to do something new and wild for him. Funk has been in bloody wars before, even in ECW, but was he ready for this? Was he ready for pierced skin and burnt flesh?
The match begins with a grapple, a push locked in place to slide each side close to the menacing barbed wire ropes that could draw first blood. The crowd is at a murmur, waiting for the pin to drop. It’s broken up by Funk delivering an elbow, a headbutt and a punch until Onita is sent into the ropes, the first explosion happening the moment he makes contact with the puncture of the wire. Funk works some more punches in on the dazed hero, sending him to the mat. The Amarillo, Texas native piledrives Onita and continues to dominate before whipping Onita into the wire once more, and another explosion dazes him.
Experience dictates Funk’s lead as agony is inflicted on his opponent. Onita tries a headlock, but Terry reintroduces him to the mat; its canvas has long since been painted in rufescent stain. Seeking to carve Onita’s face into the barbed wire proves fruitless for Funk, as the Japanese wrestler fights his way back up to his hero’s level before suplexing him onto the mat and collapsing himself.
Grappling once more and yanking on one another’s hair, this time it’s Funk’s turn to hit the ropes, the crackle and pop sizzles the veteran as the poking barbs release him onto the mat, staggering him towards his opponent. The crowd is buzzing. They’re thirsty for blood, and they’re sipping every last drop. Funk manages to get back up, stumbling inches away from another exploding bloodbath, and as Onita reaches for him once more, Funk falls flat.
Now mid-way into the match, it almost ends as Onita goes for the pin, only for a two-count. As Onita recovers, Funk is back on his feet, striking his fists at absolutely nothing, before descending onto the canvas again and rising immediately.
Repeatedly headbutting his risen opponent, Onita inches Funk nearer to the torture, yet he lumbers away, clumsily moving in a drunken waltz. Onita goes in for one more headbutt before missing and diving into the wire, which snatches his white shirt as he recovers from the newest burn as he tumbles out of the ring. Both men compose themselves, but doom and peril approaches as the swan song beeps through the counting time bomb. The endgame is near, but will the rivals escape oncoming death?
Gushing with crimson like a broken bottle of ketchup, the men are too weak, their strikes are too weak. This battle is costing them more than rewarding them. Funk grapples with Onita’s leg, who then uses it to propel the Texan to the wire ropes before hitting a variation of a DDT I don’t know about because I am a noob, and gets the three-count win.
Irate, Funk grabs wire and proceeds to choke Onita with it. The Shredder-beekeeper of a referee tries to stop it, but Terry doesn’t like it. It’s just a brawl at this point, but Onita delivers carnage and tosses Funk as a lifeless ragdoll before dragging the ref out as the last minute rings its siren call.
At that moment, Atsushi Onita realizes he has forgotten something. His idol, laying in the middle of the ring. But he does not forget his humanity, despite seconds remaining between him and Terry Funk he dives right in. Never compromise, even in the face of Armageddon.
Too little, too late, Onita realises, no longer dragging the corpse of Terry Funk, but collapsing on it, to shield him from the exploding time bomb. Heavy did it thunder, to the gasp of the audience.
That epic scene mentioned earlier plays out. Both men recover, as this is now what feels like a cinematic scene. The guitar sobs as the men gain a standing ovation, the competitors showing respect to each other. In a tear-soaked promo, Onita pours his heart out to the crowd, the language of passion surpassing the barrier betwixt language itself. Funk is carried by the man he inspired, and the wild things recover.
This was one of the weirdest matches in my experience watching Japanese pro-wrestling, but a memorable one all the same. And do you know what? This is now one of my all-time favorite matches. Onita deserves his flowers for some of the bonkers-ass stuff he did in early FMW days, absolutely, but I would be remiss to not give tribune to Terry Funk.
As I write this, Terry Funk is fighting another battle, this time with dementia. It’s a horrible condition that can erase memory, yet the legacy of Terry Funk in all the places he’s journeyed to will be stories that live on eternally.
This one’s for you, Terry Funk.