I’ve said in the past few months and as recent as earlier this month that professional wrestling is about the moments. When a company can create those moments and put their stamp on pro wrestling history, it lends itself to longevity because it gives them a foothold in the industry. Generating that moment provides substances to go along with the promotional sizzle. When All Elite wrestling launched and through the first year of its existence, there was understandably some skepticism about the potential of the organization on a long-term basis.
As much grief as fans rightfully give Dixie Carter for her attempt to swerve Billy Corgan while she took TNA off of a cliff, the point was more so that the demographic that wanted an alternative to WWE had seen projects with potential fizzle out since the shutdown of WCW twenty years ago. In truth, TNA had the talent and the exposure to make it happen, but fell incredibly short of the goal of a truly national organization that would rival WWE. The lesson there was that fans saw that a company can have the talent, and the distribution, both being very difficult to obtain in their own right, but without the proper direction, the opportunity doesn’t translate to success.
All Elite isn’t perfect and has its critics, but it would be unrealistic to expect it to be perfect. As entertaining as the Monday night wars were, if you re-watch those shows, not everything was gold. Disco Inferno vs. The Renegade wasn’t exactly a classic bout. However, at least so far, AEW has done enough right and avoided most major pitfalls so they’ve made progress to build the company. Thankfully, those within the industry have learned from the past mistakes of WCW and TNA. That statement goes across the board in many ways for not only Tony Khan, but Don Callis and Scott D’Amore as well.
As mentioned, AEW has made its share of moments recently with Sting’s tremendous surprise debut with the group, and Kenta’s attack on Jon Moxley that led to a tag match on Dynamite a few weeks ago.
Another moment was made this past week on the show after the main event six man tag team match concluded. Impact Tag Team champions, The Good Brothers and AEW champion, Kenny Omega attacked Moxley to set up the main event for the next pay-per-view in a few weeks. Drawing from their previous “lights out match,” Omega made a shocking announcement when he challenged the former Dean Ambrose to an exploding barbed wire match at Revolution.
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) February 18, 2021
Sure, the spectacle and the potential over-the-top violence is the primary selling point of this bout, but there’s an entirely different layer that makes this a particularly standout match.
The concept of an exploding barbed wire match was developed by hardcore pioneer, Atsushi Onita, who was one of the premiere jr. heavyweight wrestlers for Giant Baba’s All Japan promotion in the 1970s. During his excursion to the United States, when a Japanese wrestler is sent to learn different styles before they return to their native country as a more polished athlete, he was exposed to the wild brawls of the Memphis territory. Later, he traveled to Puerto Rico, where he saw barbed wire used in matches in Carlos Colon’s World Wrestling Council, a gimmick he eventually took back to Japan. When serious knee injuries ended his traditional wrestling career, Onita retired from All Japan, only to make a comeback when he founded the legendary Frontier Martial Arts Wrestling promotion in 1989. FMW popularized the hardcore style and had a direct influence on the development of ECW in the United States. Barbed wire matches became a major draw for the rebellious organization, as wild matches, colorful characters, and Onita’s charisma garnered a once-scuffed at genre to main stream popularity in Japan.
Too push the envelope, explosions, similar to what you would see at a pro grade fireworks show, were included with the barbed wire. Fans flocked to see the spectacle, as Onita vs. Terry Funk was a major card for the organization, drawing an estimated 40,000 fans to Kawasaki Stadium in 1993. Despite being strategically placed to allow for the most impressive visual presentation while minimizing the risk to the athletes, it’s still a very dangerous gimmick match. The hardcore legend, Mick Foley detailed in his best-selling autobiography that he suffered serious burns from an exploding board in Japan, his skin still charred on his flight home.
At its peak, FMW blended danger, athleticism, and entertainment, influencing an entire generation of American wrestlers in the process. The spectacle of the exploding barbed wire gimmick was visually impressive and had an aura around it. As notorious as he is legendary, Onita’s career, as well as the story of FMW as a whole is complex. In fact, the downfall of FMW will be profiled in season 3 of Vice TV’s Dark Side of The Ring series. Still, the exploding barbed wire match maintained its mystic over the years, and despite some attempts, it hasn’t been done on a major scale in The United States.
In 1997, Onita actually met with Vince McMahon at the WWF headquarters, which made news in Japan. Reportedly, there was some discussion about the exploding barbed wire being used in the feud of Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie, but the gimmick never materialized in the WWF. The following year, when ECW had a working agreement with FMW, which Onita sold after his 1995 retirement, despite returning to the ring roughly a year later, Paul Heyman brought the Masato Tanaka/Mike Awesome feud to American pay-per-view for their initial match-up in the company. At the same time, Heyman wanted to sign Onita for a bout to go along with the working agreement with FMW. As we know, both Tanaka and Awesome would eventually work full-time for ECW in 1999 and into 2000 before Awesome inked a deal with WCW, and Tanaka went back to Japan. Onita actually made a one-off appearance at the ECW Arena to attack The Sandman to set up the exploding barbed wire match in 1998. Supposedly, Heyman couldn’t find a building that would allow the gimmick, and when Onita left FMW that same year, the match was scrapped completely.
Fast forward to 2000, the infamous Rob Black attempted to secure a deal for Onita vs. Sabu in the same match under the XPW banner. Despite promos to hype it, nothing materialized and XPW folded before Rob Black served jail time because of incidents with his production company in the adult film industry.
As recent as 2017, Combat Zone Wrestling, the Philadelphia-based independent group, promoted a barbed wire match with Onita vs. Matt Tremont, a tremendous performer in his own right. Depending on who you ask, it was miscommunication, a misunderstanding, or misleading promotion, but a bout that was thought to have explosions was changed to a six man tag match during the show.
As you can see, there’s a pattern over the past 25 years of an attempt to bring such a gimmick match to the United States. Besides the danger to the competitors, the logistics of the gimmick make it very difficult because of the safety precautions, not only for the fans in attendance, but also the venue. The very unique circumstances of the pandemic era and the fact that Tony Khan has the use of a stadium theoretically make it possible for this gimmick match to happen. Truthfully, outside of the shock TV of the Attitude era, the WWE wouldn’t have a reason to attempt to stipulation, and most death match independent groups simply can’t afford the costs of the various safety measures used for such a gimmick so AEW has the chance to promoted the first ever exploding barbed wire match on American pay-per-view.
As mentioned before, when the WWE Network, with its thousands of hours of classic content and live PPV events, is going to drop to just $5 and for some fans free on the Peacock app, it makes selling a show at a traditional PPV price very difficult. However, the Revolution event, not only has a gimmick match that can be a selling point as a unique draw, it will also be a historic match in the United States for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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