This week the legendary Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling promotion returned in front of a sell out crowd of 1,200 fans to launch the start of a tour of five shows for the company, which garnered buzz after a press conference earlier this month announced that the FMW would present shows again. The announcement came over a decade after the original promotion collapsed, but will this relaunch make an impact in the Japanese wrestling scene?
Atsushi Onita founded FMW in 1989 after a series of knee injuries derailed his career as a junior heavyweight in All Japan Pro Wrestling a few years earlier and Onita’s promotion would set the foundation for the death match genre that would become popular around the globe in the following years. During his time in All Japan, Onita was sent on a tour of the United States to gain experience with a variety of styles and while he was wrestling in the Memphis territory, Onita was actually involved in the famous Tupello concession stand brawl, which influenced the hardcore style he would take to Japan. Another pivotal stage of Onita’s journey outside of his native country was when he wrestled in Putero Rico and saw barbed wire used in matches. After the tour, Onita would retire from All Japan for a few years before he would start his own promotion and bring the concept of barbed wire wrestling to Japan. With Onita scarring his body along the way, FMW became an underground phenomenon with a cult following and it became the biggest independent promotion in Japan after 30,000 fans witnessed Onita vs. Terry Funk in an exploding barbed wire match in 1992 at Kawasaki stadium. The roster had many colorful characters including, Mr. Pogo, Tarzan Goto, and others. However, it was the Hayabusa and Masato Tanaka that emerged as the potential future of the company. The company presented wild matches and it would also be one of the main influences for ECW.
While Onita was a charismatic and popular star, he is also very controversial for many of his unwise business decisions. After almost five years of dangerous death matches, Onita announced a retirement tour in 1995 where matches took place in a variety of cities leading to the conclusion at Kawasaki Stadium, which featured Onita vs. Hayabusa in a barbed wire cage match. In many respects, it was considered a passing of the torch, but Onita reportedly, insisted that he win his final match instead of putting Hayabusa over to further establish the promotion’s next top star. The ownership and the debt that Onita accumulated were transferred to Sochi Arai as a new era began for the promotion. Onita retired for a year and a half before he returned to the ring, which generated a lot of resentment from the Japanese fans, as they thought they were deceived during his retirement tour. After the hostility from the FMW fans, Onita left the company again and ran a series of spin off shows, but his other ventures didn’t get off the ground. Several years later, Onita was actually a representative of the Japanese government, but he was forced to leave office after a scandal. Within recent years, he has become somewhat of a regular on smaller shows and continues to draw crowds.
With Onita’s exit in 1998, FMW began expanding and the promotion would have a more international presence than most of the other companies in Japan, including a deal with Direct TV to air PPVs and several stars became known in the United States. The Mike Awesome/Masato Tanaka feud that became one of the highlights of ECW had actually started in FMW a few years previously. It was imported to the United States and there were some classic matches. The Awesome/Tanaka series enhanced Tanaka’s profile and it was one of the reasons Awesome was be offered a WCW contract a few years later. With the Direct TV deal bringing FMW new exposure, the company had Shawn Micheals referee one of their PPV main events and the company even had DVD distribution in the United States as Tokyo Pop released a series of compilations to capitalize on the popularity of hardcore wrestling.
Despite the success, the increased production costs and some of the key wrestlers on the roster retiring, the company began to struggle, but Hayabusa continued to carry the promotion as its top star. Sadly, Hayabusa was paralyzed after a botched attempted at a moonsault in 2001 and the promotion would close less than a year later. It was rumored that owner Arai owed a substantial amount of money to the Yakuaza and he committed suicide a few months after the company collapsed.
So why relaunch the company now? I think it’s a combination of a few things including, the FMW tapes were a staple for tape traders and the company remained popular for its historic death match style as well as Youtube bringing the matches to an entirely new audience in more recent years. Hideki Takahashi, who worked as a sales representative for the original promotion, is the new president and he plans to run monthly tours. Hayabusa, who can walk with a cane, is assigned the role of the executive producer. Originals Onita, Tanaka, and Nosawa are signed to compete as well as talent from The Great Muta’s Wrestle-1 promotion. The Japanese fans recognize the tradition of the sport so it’s very possible that the relaunch of FMW is seen as more of a continuation of the original organization than a nostalgia act. The traditional aspect of Japanese fans is one of the reasons it’s important that Hayabusa, Onita, and Tanaka are involved because it gives the relaunch more authenticity. I think if Onita doesn’t have anything to do with management and he remains just a wrestler, the relaunch of FMW could be successful, as there’s already a mixture of original talent and new talent for the shows, but it depends on the fans reaction to it the next few months.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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